Provisional Semantics: Addressing the challenges of representing multiple perspectives within an evolving digitised national collection is one of eight Foundational Projects under the Towards a National Collection Programme, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

A collaboration between Tate,  National Trust, Imperial War Museums and the Decolonising Arts Institute at the University of the Arts London, this project explores how museums and heritage organisations can develop ethical, equitable and transparent readings of the objects they hold.

Original caption written in 1942: Punjabi volunteers crowding round the gates of an Army recruiting office, 1942.
© IWM IND 1300 Original caption written in 1942: Punjabi volunteers crowding round the gates of an Army recruiting office, 1942.

The project’s original aims and objectives, which focused on redressing outdated language have broadened to encompass an interrogation of how long-standing problematic, often racist, hierarchies, structures, narratives and perspectives are produced and reinforced in catalogue entries, object descriptions and interpretive material.

Presented throughout these pages is research commissioned by IWM to interrogate a sample of photographs from the archive covering recruitment of Indian servicemen during the Second World War. Contributors include Aashique Iqbal, Ghee Bowman, Diya Gupta, Ananda Rutherford, and Anjalie Dalal-Clayton.

About the photograph above

 

The photograph used on this page is one of 20 for which new captions have been researched and written.

They add context which illuminates the circumstances within which the photographs were produced and reveal narratives that have been obscured or omitted by their original framing during the Second World War.

Interim Report (December 2020)
Read the interim report into the project on the Towards a National Collection website.

The Recruiting Medical Officer in Bangalore examining an Indian Army Candidate.
© IWM IND 1259
Britain and the end of Empire
Provisional Semantics: Behind the Photographs
An Extra Assistant Recruiting Officer in Bangalore questioning men applying to be enrolled in the Indian Army.
© IWM IND 1255 Original caption: An Extra Assistant Recruiting Officer in Bangalore questioning men applying to be enrolled in the Indian Army.

Contributors

  • Dr Aashique Iqbal

    Aashique Iqbal is currently Assistant Professor in History at Krea University in India. He is an historian of modern South Asia with an interest in aviation, state formation and military history. Aashique received his Masters at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and a DPhil from the University of Oxford. A book, based on his doctoral research on the relationship between aviation and decolonisation titled The Aeroplane and the Making of Modern India will be published early next year by Oxford University Press.

     

  • Dr Ghee Bowman

    Ghee Bowman is an historian, teacher and story-teller based in Exeter. His PhD research into Indian soldiers in Europe took him to 5 countries and culminated in the publication of a book in 2020 - The Indian Contingent: The Forgotten Muslim Soldiers of Dunkirk. During his six decades he has worked in the theatre, for NGOs and in education in the UK and around the world.

  • Dr Diya Gupta

    Diya Gupta is currently Past & Present Fellow: Race, Ethnicity and Equality in History at the Royal Historical Society and the Institute of Historical Research. She is a literary and cultural historian interested in the intersections between life-writing, visual and material culture, and literature, particularly in response to war. Her first book, under contract with Hurst and Oxford University Press, is on an emotional history of India in the Second World War.

  • Dr Anjalie Dalal-Clayton (she/her/hers)

    Anjalie Dalal-Clayton is an art historian with a specialism in work by British artists with African and Asian heritage, and also in the collecting, interpretation and display practices of public museums and galleries. She is currently a research fellow at University of the Arts London’s Decolonising Arts Institute, where her research explores how ‘decolonial’ strategies can be mobilised within museum practices and in the discipline of art history. As a Co-Investigator on the AHRC Towards a National Collection project Provisional Semantics, Anjalie is investigating how museums, special collections and heritage sites can engage in the decolonial agenda through ethical co-production of interpretation texts.

  • Ananda Rutherford

    Ananda Rutherford is a researcher and museum collections and documentation specialist. Formerly Assistant Keeper at the Museum of the Home, Ananda has previously worked on collections projects and management in collections including the V&A and the Crafts Council. She is in the process of completing a doctorate at UCL's Centre for Digital Humanities and her research focuses on the relationship between digitisation in cultural heritage and traditional documentation practices. She is currently research associate on the AHRC funded TaNC Foundation project, Provisional Semantics.

More from other institutions

  • Tate

    Explore more about this project at Tate.

  • Towards a National Collection

    Find out more Towards a National Collection on the project website. 

  • Decolonising Arts Institute, University of the Arts London

    The UAL Decolonising Arts Institute seeks to challenge colonial and imperial legacies and drive cultural, social and institutional change. Find out more about their work.

  • National Trust

    Explore the Clive Museum on the National Trust website.

More from IWM

AFPU photographer Sergeant E.E. Miller in action with the 5th Indian Division during the drive on the Rangoon
Sergeant E.E. Miller in action with the 5th Indian Division during the drive on the Rangoon © IWM (SE 5428)
The Battle of Singapore, February 1942
© IWM HU 2781
Second World War
Britain and Decolonisation in South East and South Asia, 1945-1948
Victory over Japan Day marked the end of the Second World War in August 1945. Yet the conflict did not end on this day, particularly in Asia. While decolonisation across South and South East Asia seemed inevitable, the territory of the British Empire was at its apogee in 1945 and the journey to independence for countries in this region was not simple.