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Images of India: Working with visual sources
to explore empire and diversity at Key Stage 3

This guidance is based on Jamie Byrom and Michael Riley’s workshop at the 2008 SHP Conference: Images of India: Working with visual sources to explore empire and diversity at Key Stage 3.

The workshop focussed on Indian images ranging from Mughal miniatures to twentieth century photographs. It covered a range of transferable teaching strategies that can be used with a wide variety of visual sources. The resources provide a summary of the strategies and suggestions of where to find images of India.

For a list of image sources [ click here ]

Describing the workshop

“Cultural, ethnic and religious diversity” … “Chronological understanding” … “The British Empire” … “Overview, thematic and depth studies” … “Using evidence”

Phrases like these from the revised National Curriculum for history will have taken up residence in teachers’ heads over the past few months. All will figure to some degree in this workshop. The workshop will take you through a series of revealing studies into the history of India and its relationship with Britain. A study of India would lend itself well to many of the requirements of the revised curriculum, offering rich opportunities for rigorous combined activities with other subjects such as Art, English, Geography and Religious Education. It would be a fine setting for the study of the British Empire as well as involving pupils in thinking about diversity and identity. Each of the studies suggested here is built around rich and intriguing visual sources and will involve a range of transferable teaching strategies. The seven studies could be developed and taught as a discrete thematic unit or spread throughout Key Stage 3, each dealing with a phase in India’s history – but the teaching strategies can be applied in almost any context.

1. Images and sense of period / sense of place

It is almost impossible to imagine that any television programme on history would set aside the use of images and music – and yet this is what we often do in our teaching. While we have neither the budget nor the time that the BBC has at its disposal, it is now relatively straight forward to put together a Powerpoint or Photostory presentation that captures the sights and sounds of a time and place. You may already be confident in using technology to mix image and sound in your classroom, but if you are concerned see if you can experiment with “Photostory”, a programme that is easy to use and has immediate and striking impact.

The montage we used in this presentation lasted just over two minutes but took us all quickly and powerfully to another time and place. And this is exactly how most of us – and our pupils – develop a sense of period: by being immersed in images and sounds (and stories) that build up a resonance. This is exactly what the new orders rightly emphasise in asking us to develop a sense of period in the pupils. Too often in history lessons – partly through pressures of time and partly because we forget that learners do not have our prior knowledge – we see teachers rush to abstractions and analysis, to pull the historical story or situation apart before the sense of period or depth of human interest has had any chance to work upon the minds and emotions of the pupils. Let the history breathe!

2. Images, engagement and enquiry

We did not analyse the images in the opening sequence – we just let them have their effect in establishing a different time, place and culture. Our next example shows how to move pupils into analysis and to develop their skills of setting up valid enquiries – but by moving through description and story in which history once again has time to “breathe”.

Using an image of a crowded Mughal building site (available from the V&A Museum searchable collection) we asked pupils to enter the image at the bottom and walk their way through. What do they see? Hear? Smell? Touch? By asking to them to explore the picture from inside, we are again giving the time and place a chance to have an effect on the imagination before we move into abstract analysis. Almost inevitably the pupils themselves will begin to analyse: why is that happening there? Why is he holding that? Who is more important here?

Having engaged curiosity, the teacher can move students into framing enquiry questions – just as the new orders encourage and require us to do. However, pupils will need more information if they are to frame or choose appropriate questions. This is where some skilful “teacher-telling” with pictures is needed. Using a few more images of Akbar and of his empire, students begin to get the idea that he was an amazing figure, with great significance. Only now are they ready to select and justify an enquiry question that they think would be fascinating, revealing and big enough to guide the learning for several lessons. Depending on how much practice they have had at this, they could be given full freedom to devise questions or they could choose from a list provided by the teacher. The aim of such a task is for them to distinguish between what we may call “Big” and “Little” questions and to see how the “Little” questions may well serve the bigger one.

3. Images and knowledge

So far images have been used to evoke a period and place, to draw pupils into an enquiry by firing their imagination and shaping their thinking. Next we need to see how images can be made to mean more by searching beyond what they directly show. The image of Sir David Ochterlony in India c1820, for example, can serve as the basis for analysis of British-Indian relations at that time, but through careful use of further investigation (by books, websites, board games or whatever) pupils will learn that there is a wider context, a bigger picture – or life beyond the picture. An activity that should fix in their minds the need to see any image in a wider context, it would be good to get pupils to draw “stick person” images on post-its and surround Ochterlony image with these, representing many other, different encounters the British must have had with Indians at that time.

4. Images and narrative

Images tell stories – and so, of course, do words. As a way into exploring a “narrative” image, laden with Victorian period feel, students could be given a bland narrative of the Siege of Lucknow during the rebellion of 1857. Asking them to pick out the man points of the story and to decide which ones they can most easily visualise would build a bridge to a study of a particular Victorian artist, in this case Frederick Goodall. Pupils will probably start by saying they would paint moments of action and drama with explosions and evident conflict. By studying some of Goodall’s other works, however, they should enter the Victorian mind-set where sentiment and morality met drama. Ask them to say how they might expect Goodall to paint a scene from Lucknow – when and where, who, what actions, poses they expect him to use. Then when they see his painting “Relief of Lucknow - Jessie’s Dream”, tell them about the almost certainly mythical but popularly accepted story of Jessie hearing the bagpipes of the Highlanders coming to rescue Lucknow as she lay in a fevered sleep. Analyse the scene, possibly even hot-seating an art critic to say how she or he is so sure this must be a Goodall painting.

5. Images and decision-making

To help pupils grasp Britain’s self-assurance about her Empire at the start of the 20th century – they could be put in role as Civil Servants who in 1907 sent the photographer Hugh Fisher to India to record images that show “The native characteristics of the country and the super-added characteristics due to British rule”. A selection of these is available in The Impact of Empire (published by Hodder, 2008). Putting students into situations such as this where they have to show awareness of a historical context and purpose deepens their grasp of historical situations and widens their knowledge at the same time. Other valid decision-making roles involving images include modern-day picture-researchers for text books, for gallery or museum posters, or for computer game designers searching for accurate historical scene-setting.

6. Images and sensitivities

There are of course occasions when the images available to historians are not necessarily appropriate for classroom use. Another related issue is that some pupils seem de-sensitised to what most would agree are disturbing images. It may often be the case that it is more powerful NOT to use images in these cases, but to draw upon accounts and stories that have a power by requiring the pupils to build their own images in their informed imagination. As suggested above, though, it may be useful to give pupils the problem of deciding whether to use images such as those showing bodies on India’s streets at the time of Partition in a text book for younger children. In role as author, editor and proof reader, they could debate the rights and wrongs. As they do so, they are developing a sense of history’s purposes and social uses.

7. Images and creativity

We return to our opening. Rather than simply create presentations for pupils, we can ask them to make their own around a given theme. One such opportunity might be to sum up images of Indian (i.e. the sub-continent) influences on British life since the war, in the context of a study of immigration. As part of this, it would be helpful to train pupils in the art of good searching skills using Google or Yahoo or Alta Vista or similar search engines. Invite them to suggest what might be powerful search words to use that immediately bring to the forefront the images they want. What do the searches suggest about our presuppositions or prejudices or limited knowledge? Are they too open or closed as searches? Which images have most power? Are there any we should not use and why not? How might we use the images to evoke a sense of the period we are living through? Which images from the past might be sprinkled amongst them to show change or similarity? … And then, of course, how will they put them together with music to create their own presentations.

Images are powerful. Let’s use them to the full to help our pupils get the picture!

Sourcing Images of India

NB You will want to clarify any copyright restrictions before using any of these images for educational purposes).

1. The selection of pre-colonial Indian art used in the initial slide-show is available (along with thousands of other fine images of all sorts) from the British Museum website. [ ]. Click on “Research” then on “Search the collection database”.Enter appropriate search terms (in this case it helps to enter the name of Edward Moor who was the Englishman who collected over 600 Indian images around 1800). If you sign up and enter your details, you can order many images at a higher resolution. They are sent by email within about two days at no cost.

2. There are many images of Akbar and his times that can be found by entering a Google Search for “Akbar nama” or “Akbarnama” or Akbarnamah”. (The image of Akbar at Fatehpur Sikri is available on the Victoria and Albert Museum website. Go to the Home page > Search the Collections and type e.g. “Akbar Sikri”. You should see amongst others the image of Akbar supervising the building. It is also in older history textbooks such as “Elizabeth and Akbar” by Annabel Wigner, published by Stanley Thornes in 1987.

3. There are many images of Akbar and his times that can be found by entering a Google Search for “Akbar nama” or “Akbarnama” or Akbarnamah”. (The image of Akbar at Fatehpur Sikri is not readily available on the web. You may be able to find it in older history textbooks such as “Elizabeth and Akbar” by Annabel Wigner, published by Stanley Thornes in 1987.

4. A search for “David Ochterlony” should lead to one or two versions of the painting of him relaxing in India. (It’s worth reading a bit more about his biography too!) “White Mughals” by William Dalrymple, published by Harper Perennial, is an excellent account of the years when British and Indians mixed relatively freely).

5. The image of the missionary preaching in India is from a varied selection available on

6. A search for Frederick Goodall and “Relief at Lucknow - Jessie’s Dream” should take to a range of sites that have the relevant images and the ballad and even a play that was widely performed on this (probably fictitious) event at Lucknow in 1857 and on Goodall’s artistic style.

7. There is an outline of the work of Alfred Hugh Fisher at but no images are available there. They are used in Impact of Empire by Byrom, Culpin and Riley published by Hodder Murray. For a full treatment of the topic see “Picturing Empire: Photography and the visualisation of the British Empire” by James R Ryan, University of Chicago Press, 1998.

8. The photographs of the partition of India and its violent consequences were taken by Margaret Bourke-White, an American photographer. A set of these can be seen at

9. The “Kumars at Number 42” are readily available by a web-search.