ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Time guns, Time balls and Public Clocks: The ‘publicness’ of time in colonial Calcutta in the late 19th-early 20th centuries


Kar Sagnik - Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany


24 – Timely Histories: A Social History of Time in South Asia


 This paper seeks to address two broad themes. On one hand, this paper aims to look beyond the tendency to approach the study of time in institutional terms. Histories of time have tended to look at ‘public’ institutions such as factories, offices and schools in order to understand how the presence of time devices brought about a shift in the manner in which time was perceived by actors in these sites. However, what it has overlooked in the process is the ‘publicness’ of time, extending beyond such institutional spaces and covering the larger space of the city. To address this, this paper will concentrate on the role played by various ‘public’ indicators of time in the daily life of Calcutta in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The emphasis will be to underline how different methods of conveying time to the residents of Calcutta – such as through the time ball, time gun and public clocks – determined the rhythm of the city. Another additional thematic focus will be to highlight how these diverse methods of conveying time interacted with each other and what, in turn, was the position of the clock with regard to them. The objective is to complicate the narrative of the clock as the dominant mode of telling time in the everyday lives of people in colonial Calcutta.