Sarah Victoria Turner discusses representations of South Asia in nineteenth and early-twentieth century exhibitions in Britain, focusing on ‘copies’ of ancient paintings of the Ajanta Buddhist cave-temples exhibited at the 1911 Festival of Empire in Sydenham, South London. Turner raises broader questions about the purpose and problematics of exhibition histories, and how we go about recreating and reconstructing the historic exhibition. What sources, materials, archives, documents, and records are available to the historian of exhibitions? Exhibition histories are always fragile, open-ended, and never definitive; but they can also be productive of new kinds of histories attentive to the networks of circulation, reception, and display created by the exhibition and its afterlives.

From Ajanta (India) to Sydenham (South London): Researching the Historic Exhibition and the London, Asia Research Project