Archive Field Study
Encyclopedic repositories of photographs and drawings have proved to be one of the most enduring creations of colonial politics. Such repositories, like the one which at present resides within the British Library, facilitated precisely the opposite of what we may think nineteenth century archaeological investigations were about. By bringing sites to scholars, photographic collections offered a crucial means of accessing the field-data directly. In particular, much of Fergusson’s dictum on Indian architectural history was derived through his perusal of the photographs, which he could command at his disposal. Their value he summed up at the end of his long, self-styled, career as an architectural historian as:
“No man can direct his mind for over forty years to the earnest investigation of any department of knowledge, and not become acquainted with a host of particulars, and acquire a species of insight which neither time, nor space, nor perhaps the resources of language will permit him to reproduce in their fullness. I possess to give a single instance, more than 3,000 photographs of Indian buildings, with which constant use has made me familiar as with any other object that is perpetually before my eyes, and to recapitulate all the information they convey to long continued scrutiny, would be an endless, if not indeed an impossible undertaking” [1876 (1910, p. viii)].
That historical data was actually ‘manufactured’ away from the field was ignored by the concerned scholarship. For, it suited scholars like Fergusson, who undertook at the most one field survey within India during their lifetime, to insist that “photographs tell their story far more clearly than any form of words that could be devised, and are by far the most perfect and satisfactory illustration of ancient Indian architecture” (1864, p. viii).