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Conceit of the Globe in Mughal Visual Practice

  • Sumathi Ramaswamy (a1)

The increasing preoccupation of the scholarly community in recent years with globalization appears to have left its impact on postmodern geographers and historians of cartography as well, several of whom have turned their attention recently to the history and politics of the image that is at the center of this new problematic, namely, the terrestrial globe. As Denis Cosgrove notes in his provocative analysis of cartographic representations of Earth in the Western imagination, “Whether pictured as a networked sphere of accelerating circulation or as an abused and overexploited body, it is from images of the spherical earth that ideas of globalization draw their expressive and political force” (2001: ix). Its very ubiquity as a symbol of the times in which we live underscores the preoccupation with the image of the globe in the late modern imagination. However, as Jerry Brotton observes, its pervasiveness may also point to an increasing redundancy of its appearance in our times, and the image of the globe has suffered what might be called “a waning of affect” (1999: 73). This argument leads him to a study of the early modern period in Europe when the terrestrial globe first emerged in his assessment as “a socially affective object” (ibid.: 72). In his Trading Territories (1997), Brotton considers how the terrestrial globe came to not just reflect an increasingly “global” world but also to constitute it over the course of the sixteenth century. Its power lay “in the ideological representation of the world it purported to describe. Its lack of cognitive specificity was not its weakness but ultimately its greatest strength, because the very perceptions of distance and space upon which the terrestrial globe rested stressed speculation and conjecture over the extent and possession of distant territories” (1999: 87–88). From the early years of the sixteenth century, even as the Copernican revolution was slowly undoing medieval Christian cosmological conceptions of the universe, terrestrial globes became increasingly crucial to the exercise of state power in Europe, as well as to the surging search for new markets and tradable goods. As importantly, as prestige objects, globes and maps became part of a new gift economy of circulation and exchange, and were sought after like “the spices, pepper, silk and precious metals to which [they] appeared to give directional access” (Brotton 1997: 25; see also Jardine 1996: 295–309, 425–36). In the process, they helped fashion new bourgeois modalities of the self, mostly but not exclusively male. Not surprisingly, as Brotton notes, “It is upon the figure of the globe, as both a visual image and a material object, that many of the social and cultural hopes and anxieties of the period came to be focused” (1997: 21).

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