The RAS hosted two lectures during the past week. On Thursday, 14 April, Dr. Jenny Balfour-Paul (University of Exeter) delivered a lecture on “Journeys in the Footsteps of Thomas Machell, forgotten explorer”. Jenny described how she was brought to research Thomas Machell by way of her interest in indigo and the economic history of the indigo trade. Born in Yorkshire in 1824, Machell was an explorer as well as an indigo planter in Bengal in the mid-nineteenth century, and after he died in 1862 he left behind five volumes of illustrated journals recounting his travels and his observations on life in India and elsewhere.
Jenny described how Machell stood out from many other British people in India at the time due to his empathy for India and its peoples and cultures, and his relative lack of interest in commerce. Machell’s life is recounted in Deeper than indigo, which also includes Jenny’s account of her own journey to re-discover the life of this forgotten explorer.
Jenny took a number of questions after her lecture before guests enjoyed drinks and refreshments.
On Tuesday 19 April, Charlotte de Blois (Royal Asiatic Society) delivered a lecture on “Hints of the Heterodox in Christian Images from China” as part of our Fresh Perspectives series. Charlotte discussed a number of wonderful images of Christian art from China, examining aspects of their imagery and iconography to highlight areas of similarity and difference between Christian and Taoist or Buddhist art.
In some cases, cultural cross-fertilisation and melding can mean that the boundaries between artistic archetypes become blurred. European Christian missionaries in China encountered a challenging environment with a very advanced literary, artistic and intellectual culture. The artistic record provides evidence that even where Christianity found success, its interpretation was shaped by pre-existing modes of religious and cultural representation.
Charlotte’s lecture was followed by a number of questions and contributions from the audience, as well as a wine reception.
The next lecture at the Society will be on Thursday 12 May, when Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams (SOAS) will lecture on “The Bactrian archives: Reconstructing the lost history of Ancient Afghanistan”. We hope you will join us.