Graduate Research Colloquium: Dr Katherine Schofield (King's College London)

This event was originally advertised as 7 May but was postponed to the new date of 4 June.


James Skinner’s illustrated 1825 Persian-language Inventory of the Communities of Delhi, the Tashrīh al-Aqwām, includes a painting taken from life of Miyan Himmat Khan kalāwant (d.c.1840), the chief hereditary instrumental musician to the last Mughal emperors Akbar Shah (r.1806–37) and Bahadur Shah Zafar (r.1837–58). But the portrait was simultaneously intended as an ethnographic archetype: Skinner commissioned it to illustrate his entry on "the kalāwant community”, one of 104 distinct people groups he described. 

Skinner wrote in Persian, and drew on long-standing Indian traditions of writing on ethnographic “types”. But his work also played into the emergent British colonial knowledge project of categorising the communities they now ruled under the term “caste". At the same time, Skinner’s entry is wholly unreconcilable with Himmat Khan’s own musical biography and intellectual output—a co-written music treatise, the Asl al-Usūl (Foundations of Rhythm), which presents a revolutionary modern conceptualisation of the Hindustani tāl (metrical) system.

In order to untangle this socio-musical knot, I will juxtapose late Mughal and Conmpany-style ethnographic paintings and written descriptions in Persian, Urdu, Hindi, and English against a new wave of Persian, Urdu and Hindi music-technical works composed c. 1780–1850. The latter reveal the emergence of a paracolonial indigenous modernity in the most authoritative centres of North Indian art-music production, Delhi and Lucknow, running alongside and beyond colonial knowledge projects at the end of the East India Company’s tenure in India.


Katherine Schofield is Head of the Department of Music at King’s College London. A historian of music and listening in Mughal India and the paracolonial Indian Ocean, she has been Principal Investigator of a European Research Council Starting Grant (2011–16) and a British Academy Mid Career Fellow (2018), and is a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society and the Royal Historical Society. Working largely with Persian, Urdu, and visual sources for elite musical culture in North India and the Deccan c.1570–1860, Katherine’s research interests lie in South Asian music, visual art, and cinema; the history of Mughal India (1526–1858); Islam and Sufism; empire and the paracolonial; and the intersecting histories of the emotions, the senses, aesthetics, ethics, and the supernatural. She is the editor with Francesca Orsini of Tellings and Texts: Music, Literature, and Performance in North India (Open Book, 2015), and with Imke Rajamani and Margrit Pernau Monsoon Feelings: a History of Emotions in the Rain (Niyogi, 2018). Her most recent book is Music and Musicians in Late Mughal India: Histories of the Ephemeral, 1748–1858 (CUP, 2023).