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The Spatialization of Knowledge and Power at the Astronomical Observatories of Sawai Jai Singh II, c. 1721-1743 CE

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Title: The Spatialization of Knowledge and Power at the Astronomical Observatories of Sawai Jai Singh II, c. 1721-1743 CE
Author(s): Johnson-Roehr, Susan N.
Director of Research: Pyla, Panayiota
Doctoral Committee Chair(s): Ruggles, D. Fairchild
Doctoral Committee Member(s): Pyla, Panayiota; Burton, Antoinette M.; Kruty, Paul
Department / Program: Architecture
Discipline: Architecture
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: Ph.D.
Genre: Dissertation
Subject(s): Architecture India South Asia Landscape Astronomy Observatories Sawai Jai Singh II Jaipur Delhi Ujjain Mathura Varanasi Power Jesuits
Abstract: This dissertation is about the production of astronomical knowledge in northern India during the eighteenth century and the specific architectural elements and landscape configurations that affected the mobility and utility of that knowledge. Centered on a group of five astronomical observatories built between 1721 and 1743 CE under the patronage of the Maharaja Dhiraja of Jaipur and Amer, Sawai Jai Singh II, this project is an analysis of the relationship between patron, architecture, and space, and as such, represents an alternative history of observatories, one that is underpinned by motion, exchange, adaptation, and creativity. My project embraces the spatial and the material, and argues that architecture and landscape are not simply witnesses to history but participants in the process of change and transformation. This project argues that our understanding of the spatial and intellectual relationships among the observatories has been shaped by colonial historiography and calls for a reading of the historical landscape that recognizes both the power and the limitations of the agency of the local patron and populace. In this study, I demonstrate that the observatory outside the walls of Shahjahanabad functioned as the primary site for scientific production for several years before Sawai Jai Singh directed his attentions toward the observatory in Jaipur c. 1728 CE. A close reading of the plan and architecture of Jaipur reveals the multiple types of knowledge that were emplaced in the local landscape as a result of the construction of the observatory and shows that while the ostensible goal of the observatory was the production of astronomical knowledge, ancillary knowledge—accounting, building, political—was privileged in the intellectual institutions of the city. My analysis of the relationship between these institutions and the greater urban fabric disentangles the complexity of labor divisions at the observatory and highlights Sawai Jai Singh’s desire to consolidate his intellectual wealth into a single locale—the scholar’s village of Bhramapurī—at the periphery of the capital. This discussion also considers the stretch and limitations of Sawai Jai Singh’s power and reputation. Sawai Jai Singh made three separate attempts to re-settle European experts close to his most active observatory. In doing so, he appropriated the infrastructure of the Society of Jesus and used it to circumvent the hardships impressed upon travelers by the north Indian landscape in order to bring representatives of European science back to his capital city. However, in spite of the strength of his political and economic position in northern India, the natural landscape and the particularities of the Jesuit rule combined to thwart him in these endeavors. This project concludes with a consideration of the dominant themes in contemporary heritage discourse, demonstrating that as the observatories were vacated of historical references, they were assigned new and often contradictory meaning by local and global stakeholders. By turning away from the conventional archive, and examining instead the built environment of northern India during the first half of the eighteenth century, the observatories are revealed to be dynamic components of a cultural landscape thoroughly saturated with motion, productivity, and change.
Issue Date: 2011-05-25
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/24469
Rights Information: Copyright 2011 Susan N. Johnson-Roehr
Date Available in IDEALS: 2011-05-25
2013-05-26
Date Deposited: 2011-05
 

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