Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

1/1/2016 - 12/31/2016

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

The Visual Cultures of Tea Consumption in Colonial and Modern India

FAIN: FA-232028-16

Romita Ray
Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY 13244-0001)

Research for a book-length study on the development and visual culture of tea in India from the late 17th century to the present.

Transformed into a prized beverage and a botanical novelty, Chinese tea spawned a vibrant culture of tea drinking in Britain, while triggering revolutions and wars in two continents. It also altered the landscape of India where Britain’s vision to become a self-sufficient producer of tea eventually crystallized in the wake of the Opium Wars in China. Ushered through the Canton trade, tea united the histories of China, Britain, India, and North America, transforming swathes of land into plantations in India and Sri Lanka, and producing botanical specimens, tea utensils, and furniture. These artifacts in turn engendered scientific research, social exchange, medical debate, commercial advertising, and patriotic zeal. It is against this backdrop that I examine the visual cultures of tea consumption in India, first under the auspices of the East India Company; next, under the Victorian Raj; and finally, in the post-Independence era when tea became widely recognized as a national drink.

Media Coverage

Research Is Her Cup of Tea (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Renée K. Gadoua
Publication: Syracuse University News
Date: 3/1/2017
Abstract: n/a

US scholar on tea trail to dig up treasure trove (Media Coverage)
Author(s): none
Publication: Times of India
Date: 4/10/2016
Abstract: n/a

Valuing the Humanities First in four-part series about humanities research at Syracuse (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Rob Enslin
Publication: Syracuse University College of Arts and Sciences Headlines from The Hall
Date: 5/5/2017

Research Snapshot (Media Coverage)
Publication: Syracuse University Magazine
Date: 5/1/2017
Abstract: Research Snapshot about my NEH Fellowship. This snapshot was published in the Spring 2017 issue of the Syracuse University Magazine (vol 34, no. 1)

Associated Products

Botanical Treasure, Ornamental Wonder? Aestheticizing Tea in Britain and Colonial Calcutta (Public Lecture or Presentation)
Title: Botanical Treasure, Ornamental Wonder? Aestheticizing Tea in Britain and Colonial Calcutta
Abstract: How did the tea plant, essentially a Chinese import, produce aesthetic encounters in Britain and colonial Calcutta in the eighteenth century? In 1786, Colonel Robert Kyd created a botanical garden in Calcutta to experiment with growing economically lucrative plants, including Chinese tea. If successful, the plan would relieve the East India Company of their dependence on the China Trade. It would also usher in a distinctly “British” culture of tea drinking, whose profound impact on multiple visual domains ranging from the botanical to the ornamental, would spill over into gardens and drawing rooms in colonial India.
Author: Romita Ray
Date: 04/11/16
Location: Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata, India
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Link to "Special Events" page on the Victoria Memorial Hall website featuring an announcement about the public presentation.
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description: "The Times of India," a national newspaper in India, picked up the announcement about the public lecture at the Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata, and interviewed me about my tea project.

“An Homage to a Box of Tea: Musings of an Art Historian” (Blog Post)
Title: “An Homage to a Box of Tea: Musings of an Art Historian”
Author: Romita Ray
Abstract: n/a
Date: 8/12/2016
Primary URL:

“A Moustache in a Teacup” (Blog Post)
Title: “A Moustache in a Teacup”
Author: Romita Ray
Abstract: n/a
Date: 9/1/2016
Primary URL:

“Madam Superintendent and Durga Puja in a Tea Garden” (Blog Post)
Title: “Madam Superintendent and Durga Puja in a Tea Garden”
Author: Romita Ray
Abstract: n/a
Date: 11/11/2016
Primary URL:

Tigers and Tea (Blog Post)
Title: Tigers and Tea
Author: Romita Ray
Abstract: This post is about tigers and tea within the broader context of imperial history and current children's book illustrations
Date: 06/02/2017
Primary URL:
Blog Title: Tigers and Tea