William Bamber: From Ottoman Istanbulin to Hyderabadi Sherwani: A Transnational Men’s Style in late-19th Century South Asia, 1869–1911
This paper traces the history of the Hyderabadi sherwani jacket, from its origins in a mid-19th century Ottoman men’s style to becoming the embodiment of revitalized Hyderabadi regional identity. Bamber argues that the distinctive aesthetic which evolved around the sherwani with fez/rumi topi exemplifies new notions of urbane modernity then emerging across the region, which sought to express a civilized, cosmopolitan, yet consciously non-Western identity. The wide popularization of an Ottoman style across South and Southeast Asia, moreover, illustrates the growing importance of other transnational networks than the European-imperial, not only political-economically but also in the realm of aesthetic exchange. Here, he draws on collections of costume, studio portraiture and Urdu popular print to document the material evolution, use and meanings progressively constructed through the style. Initially characterized by sober shades and plain fabrics, the 1890s saw a resurgence of bright colors, bold patterning and silk, as Hyderabadi statesmen sought to resuscitate domestic textile production and assert a new national aesthetics. Unlike other regions where the topi-sherwani style became associated with Muslim nationalism, here it became a favorite anecdotal proof of the communal harmony particular to Hyderabad and the historical Deccan, where educated Hindus and Muslims could not be distinguished by dress.
Originally from Britain, William Bamber is a PhD candidate in the University of Washington’s Interdisciplinary Near and Middle East Studies program, with an additional specialization in South Asia studies. His research focuses on the global history of the nineteenth century, with particular emphases on historical evolutions of male costume and masculinity, movements of aesthetic forms and the social history of Ottoman Turkey and South Asia. He previously completed his MA in Turkish studies at Sabancı University in Istanbul and is now in the final stages of writing up his dissertation, supported by an ACLS-Mellon writing fellowship.