Thanks to the generosity of the Weaver/Nicolais Family while studying abroad this past fall in Chiang Mai, Thailand I was able to visit Kolkata, India and Singapore to observe British colonial architecture. I was mainly interested in looking at the physical upkeep of colonial buildings and who seemed to interact with them, from local populations to tourists. What I observed thanks to my Travel Enrichment Grant inspired me further and this semester I am pursuing a European Studies SYE on the intersection of colonial heritage buildings, their conservation and heritage tourism.
While in Kolkata, India I noticed that more of the colonial architecture and buildings in general were not in the best shape. I walked throughout the BBD Bagh area of Kolkata, India which contains central colonial government and residential buildings. A handful of the buildings I was able to see were the Victoria Memorial, Shaheed Minar, St. John’s Church, New Market Area, Fort William, Kolkata High Court, Kolkata Town Hall, Writers Building, General Post Office, St. Andrew’s Church and the Indian Museum. There was a vast range in the upkeep of the buildings with some being taken care of and reused, like the Victoria Memorial for example, while other buildings were visibly falling apart and had overgrown ivy on the sides. I met a Bengali couple on the way to the Victoria Memorial Hall and they told me they were on vacation visiting the sites in Kolkata similarly to other couples they knew back home.
Meanwhile in Singapore I noticed a much more distinctive interaction of the local population with the colonial sites I visited. Such places were the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, and the Supreme Court and City Hall (which today have been combined to create the National Gallery). The reuse of these buildings have kept them pristine and even updated with additions in order to serve their new purposes to the population. The day that I went to see these buildings there was a dance performance being held on the inside staircase of the National Gallery. The dancers used the space they were in to tell the story of Singapore, it’s past and present being a culmination of different ethnicities and histories.
All in all, I had the amazing opportunity to see firsthand to go and see the colonial buildings I am now writing about in my SYE enhancing my knowledge and passion for the topic. I went into Kolkata, India and Singapore expecting to find pristine colonial sites and ending up delving in so much deeper. I was able to gain a glimpse into more culture, history and heritage than I had expected and that was all possible to the grant I received. Thank you.