By Abigail McGowan (auth.)

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A common theme in European accounts of the Great Exhibition was that Indian artisans only produced such fine 34 CRAFTING THE NATION IN COLONIAL INDIA designs because they were unsullied by reason, science, or technology. Indeed, according to the German architect Gottfried Semper, who was in London for the Great Exhibition, Europeans were now too civilized to match Indian design skills: We possess a wealth of knowledge, a never-surpassed technical virtuosity, a profuse artistic tradition, recognized artistic images, and a proper view of nature, all of which we must certainly not abandon for half-barbaric ways.

54 This choice had real material consequences, as reformers directed development efforts at some artisans and some types of production and not others. It also had ideological ones, as the repetition of the “fact” of difference rendered it common sense. Finally, it also had political consequences, as outsiders claimed authority over the field of crafts and, more specifically, Indian elites used crafts to contest the power of the state. This is not to say that the idea of crafts difference had absolute power.

60 Whatever their goals to offer comprehensive displays, neither the Broach exhibition nor the V&A actually encompassed the full range of local products. Instead, organizers of each shaped exhibits to reflect their own ideas about the regional economy. At the V&A, this meant emphasizing raw materials at the expense of manufactures. By the time the museum permanently opened its doors in 1857, it already boasted a collection of more than a thousand samples of regional minerals, resins and 40 CRAFTING THE NATION IN COLONIAL INDIA oils used in pharmaceutical products, food products, and vegetable and animal substances used in manufactures.

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