Metallic Modern: Everyday Machines in Colonial Sri Lanka | BERGHAHN BOOKS
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Metallic Modern: Everyday Machines in Colonial Sri Lanka

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Metallic Modern

Everyday Machines in Colonial Sri Lanka

Nira Wickramasinghe

192 pages, 20 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78238-242-3 $135.00/£99.00 / Hb / Published (January 2014)

eISBN 978-1-78238-243-0 eBook

View CartYour country: - edit Buy the eBook from these vendorsRequest a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format)Recommend to your LibraryAvailable in GOBI®


“This is a fascinating book, rich in ideas about what we do with technology’s reception and reconstitution in the colonial world.” · South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies

“…this a readable and valuable book that provides insights into commoners’ encounter with modern consumerism and its complex socio-cultural significance in late colonial Sri Lanka.” · Itinerario

“This book is academically rich, analytically sophisticated and full of insightful interpretations that make it a valuable source for scholars and students from multiple disciplines. It will also be a pleasant read for those who are simply curious about the dusty machines that sacredly and majestically occupy a small corner of their grandparents’ homes, still covered with a cloth.” · The International Institute for Asian Studies Newsletter

“Once every few years, a book comes along to transform the study of modern South Asia: this is such a book…[It] is deeply scholarly and yet playful; it is both empirically thorough and rich with metaphor. The book is a model of a way of writing history—non-linear, allusive, braided together—that reflects its arguments and materials. Form and content work together perfectly, and this makes Metallic Modern a wonderful read: the book is as enjoyable as it is stimulating.” · Sunil Amrith, University of London

“This is a most engaging book from a well-known author… a timely contribution concerning an important subject that is attracting renewed and sustained interest from historians of late.” · Crispin Bates, University of Edinburgh


Everyday life in the Crown colony of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was characterized by a direct encounter of people with modernity through the consumption and use of foreign machines – in particular, the Singer sewing machine, but also the gramophone, tramway, bicycle and varieties of industrial equipment. The ‘metallic modern’ of the 19th and early 20th century Ceylon encompassed multiple worlds of belonging and imagination; and enabled diverse conceptions of time to coexist through encounters with Siam, the United States and Japan as well as a new conception of urban space in Colombo. Metallic Modern describes the modern as it was lived and experienced by non-elite groups – tailors, seamstresses, shopkeepers, workers – and suggests that their idea of the modern was nurtured by a changing material world.

Nira Wickramasinghe is Professor and Chair of Modern South Asian Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Her most recent books are Sri Lanka in the Modern  Age. A History of Contested Identities (2006) and L’Invention du Vêtement National au Sri Lanka. Habiller le corps colonise (2006).

Subject: Colonial HistoryCultural Studies (General)Development Studies
Area: Asia


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