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Visual Culture Analysis Handout and Syllabus, On the Edges of Empire: India and Mexico/American Southwest

Editor’s Note: The visual culture handout and syllabus that follow complement “Digital Archives: Teaching Indian Colonial History Through Photographs” by Rachel M. Ball-Phillips from the EAA winter 2015 issue (vol. 20, no. 3). KNW is the acronym for Ways of Knowing courses offered through SMU. Ways of Knowing courses cut across disciplines, exploring how natural scientists, social scientists, humanists, artists, engineers, and professionals in business and education go about addressing important issues. The courses develop students’ understanding of the multiple approaches whereby different disciplines define, acquire, and create knowledge, including the ethical considerations involved. The KNW 2399 class website is available at If you have any questions about the readings and course materials listed in the syllabus, you may contact Rachel M. Ball-Phillips at

Visual Culture Analysis KNW 2399

Title of photograph:


I. Observations: Examine the photograph and make a list of the people and objects in the photograph. What actions are happening? Pay attention to both the background and the foreground of the photograph.

II. Conclusions Based on the above observations, what conclusions can you draw about the photograph?




III. Questions List two questions that you are left with after examining and analyzing this photograph.



KNW 2399 Special Topics: On the Edges of Empire: India and Mexico/American Southwest

Instructors: Neil Foley and Rachel Ball-Phillips

Course Description:

Spanning the globe from the Americas to South Asia, this interdisciplinary course will examine the peripheries of empires. Rather than looking at the history of empires from the view of European powers (England and Spain), this course takes us to the places that were conquered in order to gain a broader understanding of how empire and colonialism worked, or failed to work, and ultimately what led these “edges of empires” to decolonize and gain independence (India and Mexico) – and, in the case of the American Southwest, become incorporated into another empire: the United States. This course provides an in-depth interdisciplinary study of the British colonization of India and the expansion of New Spain into the northern borderlands of present-day Mexico and the American Southwest. Using film/visual culture in addition to historical texts, we will explore common themes of colonial ideologies, class/caste and gender formations, legal and economic systems, emerging
regional and national identities, religious cultures and other topics from the eighteenth century to present.

Student Learning Outcomes:

Students will be able to demonstrate a knowledge of more than one disciplinary practice.

Students will be able to explain how bringing more than one practice to an examination of the course topic contributes to knowing about that topic.

Required Readings:

All texts are available to students on Blackboard. Students should come to the first class of each unit having read the assigned reading. We will draw from these texts for class discussion.

Films for the Class: (available on reserve at Fondren Library)

You will choose one film on India and one film on Mexico/American Southwest.

Water (2005), India – available on Netflix and at Fondren Library

Like Water for Chocolate (1992) — available on Netflix and at Fondren Library.


Blog posts (500 words each) – 20%

Mid-term Film Review– 25%

Visual Culture Project – 35%

Attendance/Participation 20%

Course Components:

Blog Posts – (500 words each) – This class will be broken into two-week units. Each unit will cover one week of India and one week of Mexico/American Southwest. You will have the option to write a blog post for each unit, but are only required to complete four out of five blog posts. Each blog post should draw on all the assigned readings for that unit, as well as lectures and discussions. At the beginning of each unit, we will provide a list of questions for you to think about while you are going through that unit’s materials. Your blog post does not need to address all of these questions, but instead these will guide you to the important themes of the unit. In your blog post, you should cite readings by using the author’s name and page number. For non-course materials, full citation is required. Your blog posts should not simply summarize the texts or the lectures, but rather demonstrate your own intellectual and analytical engagement with the material.

Mid-term Film Review – As a mid-term assessment, you will write a review of a film on Mexico or India. The choice is yours. This is not simply a description of the film, but instead an opportunity for you to identify major themes in the film that you can connect with other course materials dealing with colonialism. Papers should be 5 pages, Times New Roman 12 point font, double-spaced, with one inch margins. Please include a cover sheet with the title of your paper, as well as your name, class, date, and signed honor code (“On my honor I have neither given nor received aid on this assignment”). You should draw on at least two additional sources, which must include academic articles and/or books. More details will be provided in a separate document.

Visual Culture Project – As your final assessment, you will use photographs and secondary sources to help build a class website culminating with the production of a video based on photographs that are held and have been digitized by DeGolyer Library. This film will be based on four photos (two from Mexico/Southwest America and two from India) that are available in the special collections at DeGolyer Library. Students will begin by choosing one photograph from Mexico/American Southwest and one from Mexico to do a guided photo analysis (20% of the project grade). You will upload your visual analysis of each photograph, as well as the two photographs, on the class website. The second portion of the project is a bibliography of secondary sources that you will consult to address the theme you will address in your film (10% of your project grade). This will provide the resources necessary for you to produce your 6-8 minute film, which you will upload by 2:00 pm on November 24. You must also submit a script at this time. More information on the Final Visual Culture Project will be provided in a separate document.

Attendance/Participation – Your participation grade will include attendance in class and participation in class discussions, as well as in-class activities that will be graded. You are required to have read and to be able to discuss all of the assigned readings. Failure to do so will negatively affect your participation grade.

Schedule of Classes


Aug. 25 (T) Introduction to the course


Aug. 27 (Th) Colonization of India to 1757: Portuguese, French and British vie for Power Reading: Peers and Gooptu (eds.), Ch. 10 “The Material and Visual Culture of British India,” Christopher Pinney

Sept. 1 (T) The East India Company and the Battle of Plassey

Sept. 3 (Th) Spanish Conquest

Reading: In “Course Documents” on Blackboard (BB), texts by Poinsett, Vasconcelos, and Paz, pp. 9-27 [from G. Joseph et al., The Mexico Reader].

Sept. 8 (T) Cortes and the Conquest of Mexico UNIT 2 Sept. 10 (Th) The Colonial Economy in the 18th Century

Blog Post 1 Due


Sept. 15 (T) Race, Sex and Colonial Society

Reading: Durba Ghosh, “Who counts as ‘native’?: gender, race, and subjectivity in colonial India,” Journal of Colonial History. 6:3 (2005)

Sept. 17 (Th) Exploration and the Search for Wealth Reading: Neil Foley, “Genesis of Mexican America,” on BB Course Documents Sept. 22 (T) Treatment of the Indians and Pueblo Revolt, 1680


Sept. 24 (Th) The Invention of Tradition (Abolition of sati and debates over women’s bodies)

Blog Post 2 Due

Sept. 29 (T) The Great Rebellion (1857)

Reading: Andrea Major, “ ‘The Hazards of Interference’: British Fears of Rebellion and Sati as a Potential Site of Conflict, 1829-1857,” in Mutiny at the Margins: New Perspectives on the Indian Uprising of 1857, edited by Crispin Bates (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2013): 43-60.

Oct. 1 (Th) Orientation at DeGolyer Library for the Visual Culture Project

Oct. 6 (T) Race and Social Status in 18th Century New Spain/Casta Paintings Reading: María Elena Martínez, “Changing Contours: ‘Limpieza de Sangre’ in the Age of Reason and Reform,” from Genealogical Fictions, on BB Course Documents

Oct. 8 (Th) Workshop: How to Film for the Final Project & Mid-term Discussion

Mid-term Due

Oct. 13 (T) No Class – Fall Break

Oct. 15 (Th) – End of Spanish Rule in Mexico, 1780-1821


Oct. 20 (T) Rise of Nationalism in India

Blog Post 3 Due

Oct. 22 (Th) Gandhi and Mass Nationalism Reading: Watch the film Gandhi (1982)

Oct. 27 (T) Workshop: Building a Website and Visual Culture

Visual Culture Project Photo Analysis Postings Due

Oct. 29 (Th) Anglo-American Expansion into the Northern Frontier and the Texas revolt from Mexico, 1821-1836

Reading: John Chavez, chapter 3: “The Mexican Far North,” in The Lost Land: The Chicano Image of the Southwest, online ebook at Fondren Library: bibId=1813873

Nov. 3 (T) Annexation of Texas and War with Mexico, 1821-1848


Nov. 5 (Th) Films, Empire and Nationalism

Blog Post 4 Due

Nov. 10 (T) Partition and Independence (1947)

Reading: Saadat Hasan Manto, “Toba Tek Singh”

Visual Culture Project Thesis and Bibliography Due

Nov. 12 (Th) Resistance and Social Banditry in the American Southwest

Nov. 17 (T) The Mexican Revolution and Subordination of Mexican Ranch Society in the Southwest, 1910-1920

Reading: Foley, chapter 2: “No Estás en tu Casa,” from Mexicans in the Making of America, on BB Course Documents.


Nov. 19 (Th) The Legacies of Colonialism in India and Mexico/American Southwest

Blog Post 5 Due

Nov. 24 (T) Visual Project Due

Nov. 26 (Th) No Class – Thanksgiving Break Dec. 1 (T) Panel on Post-Colonialism around the World

Dec. 3 (Th) Conclusion