Boatmen of the Malabar Coast. Hi my name is Richard Axelby and I’m working as a Caird Research Fellow helping out on the early stages of planning for the Indian Ocean Worlds exhibition.
My academic background is in Anthropology but, after spending an exhausting 15 months of fieldwork chasing sheep and shepherds up and down the Himalayas, I decided that an immediate change of disciplines was necessary. Thus, upon finally finishing my PhD, I shifted sideways into the field of history reasoning that archival study allowed me the best chance to stay warm and dry. Alongside anthropology, my research interests include the history of science and of the environment.
I’m particularly interesting in the ways in which different cultures perceive and represent the natural world around them, whether it is flora, fauna, landscapes or other people. Maritime history offers huge potential for exploring the range of cross-cultural points of contact occurring between Europeans and Asians from the 16th century onwards and that progressed through exploration to trade, colonial expansion and resistance.
Over the next few months I’ll be sifting through the Museum’s collections looking for examples of these encounters. Attempts to understand and represent ‘the other’ can be found written into a sailor’s dairy, or illustrated by one of Hodges’ paintings of Indian scenery, or shown in an African mask or the casual snapshots of a colonial administrator. Together these items demonstrate a shifting diversity of views which reveals the extent to which every encounter is a co-production which leaves neither side untouched.
So if you have any suggestions or ideas, or just fancy a chat, I can often be found lurking in the Caird Library, or you can email me at: fellow4@nmm.ac.uk.
Richard (Caird Research Fellow)