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Itinerant Museums: Situating Antiquarian Practices and the Role of Museums in the Littoral Sundarbans


· Samayita Banerjee Ashoka University (Sonipat, India)


07/27 | 09:40-10:00 UTC+2/CEST


This paper traces the beginning and growth of a museum-building movement in the Sundarbans, India. It argues that the museum building movement emerged in Sundarbans because of the fast disappearing traces to the history of the region because of the riverine and oceanic forces. Geographically the Sundarbans fall under the active deltaic belt is still going through a process of ongoing changes that creates a unique kind of a littoral space. This paper studies the local museums of deltaic Bengal which used antiquarian practices to withstand not only the overwhelming apparatus of the post-colonial state but also a shifting landscape. Museums in Sundarbans function as the survival force for the people who want to lay claim to the space as much as the vaunted tigers, crocodiles and the mangroves.

Museums play a very important role in promoting a connectedness among not only its inhabitants but also with the antiquity of a fluvial landscape. Unlike the de-contextualized colonial museum these local museums exist because of the anxieties of the local collectors who intend to preserve a history and contest the narrative of the post-colonial state that extends more protection to the endangered animals than the inhabitants. Based on the ethnographic study of a few such museums and archives of an amateur archaeologist-antiquarian of Sundarbans, this paper will show how the museums re-enact and contest a space that is ephemeral and explore the affective bonds that enable protection and preservation of a history that is under attack from multiple forces.