Esha Sil's paper "Towards a Polyvocal Transoceanic Materiality: Antony Firingi, Henry Derozio, and Creole Bengal",
"engaged with the material history of imperial Europe, via the embodied vocal articulations of a ‘creole Bengali’ modernity in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. It posited as its contextual premise the material and affective networks forged by the transoceanic encounters of island-like enclaves along the Hooghly river in Bengal: these enclaves, including Bandel, Chandernagore, Chinsurah and Serampore, developed rapidly into Portuguese, French, Dutch and Danish settlements between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, entering into complex inter-imperial dialogues with the British colonial capital, Calcutta, and furthering at the same time, Bengal’s commercial and transcultural exchanges across the Indian and Atlantic oceans.
Her analysis of the material and artistic synergies, constituting such entangled histories and their creolized life-worlds, was predicated upon the vocal axes of two identity-narratives – those of Antony Firingi (c. late 1700s-1836), a Portuguese-Bengali kabiyal songster from Pharashdanga, i.e. Chandernagore, and Henry Derozio (1809-1831), a Calcutta-based Anglo-Indian poet and academic, of mixed Portuguese ancestry. Deploying a conceptual apparatus interspersing cultural materialist and oceanic humanities approaches with relevant theories of sound, Sil’s comparative critique of Firingi’s songs and Derozio’s poems delineated the ‘contact-sensuous’ mystique of the creole Bengali body as a ‘speaking commodity’, to tease out the archipelagic resonances of its sonic propulsions. She hence established how the embodied vocal agency of Firingi and Derozio’s interstitial modernities harnessed the dense intercultural synergies of the Hooghly enclaves, to inaugurate a polyvocal transoceanic poetics of ‘rematerializing’ creole Bengal."
The two-day workshop OTHER THINGS delved into the importance of matter in colonial encounters, and to European self-understanding, and gathered an interdisciplinary group of researchers who investigated this topic from a variety of literary, cultural and intellectual history perspectives. The event was organised in collaboration with the interdisciplinary Colonial Spaces, Colonial Power (COSCOP) research network and Helsinki Centre for Intellectual History. The keynote lecture was given by Professor Amanda Vickery (Queen Mary, University of London).