Empires, we are given to understand, are big affairs. Building empire is about conquering and accumulating vast territories, a collective enterprise of enormous proportions. Stories of imperial expansion are told through wars, annexations and much-prized commercial goods – cotton, indigo, saltpetre, opium, spices, tea – that yielded large profits. Drawing on her book Small Spaces: Recasting the Architecture of Empire (Bloomsbury, 2023), Swati Chattopadhyay offers a new approach to empire by focusing on “small spaces.” These spaces include service spaces, workspaces, storage spaces that have long been considered insignificant because of their size or location, or the minor role they seemingly play in economic and political histories. They are cook rooms, godowns, bottlekhanas – spaces with uncertain names and hazy genealogies in the margins of the imperial archive. Chattopadhyay demonstrates how attention to small scale and size, and the lived worlds of small spaces, might help us rethink empire as a global enterprise.
Respondent: Tania Sengupta
A Research Seminar Series co-organised with Rixt Woudstra (Assistant Professor in Architectural History, University of Amsterdam).
Venue / Location