PresenterDharan Nikhil Joseph - University of Pennsylvania, History and Sociology of Science, Philadelphia, United States
Panel09 – Making Artisans: Artisanal Lives and Production in South Asia
For more than a century, leather goods have been a chief export from Tamil Nadu, representing nearly the majority of India’s total exports. In the late colonial period, the industrialization of leather production in the Madras Presidency gained new vigor after the outbreak of the First World War. The wartime and interwar periods could be seen as a phase of major investment in leather technology: importing wattle bark as a tannin; establishing the Leather Trades Institute (LTI) for practical education; and implementing novel methods in chemical-based tanning. Yet the industry also struggled with their supply chain, imperial customs duties, and with training tanners in new techniques—the LTI ceased its educational mandate in 1930. Building on existing scholarship on the labor and caste politics of leather tanners, my research highlights the many labors of integrating leather within the colonial system of industrial capitalism. Through narrating the perspectives of leather merchants, technical educators, British industrialists, and regulatory agents, I offer fresh insights on colonial attitudes towards leather artisans, as well as the peculiar nature of industrial development under colonialism. I will argue for an understanding of leather at the intersection of modern chemistry, craft tradition, scientific forestry, and imperial trade, revealing that the industrialization of leather proceeded both consequent to and in spite of colonial interventions.