Centre for Studies in Social Sciences

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over two years

Principal Investigator: Gautam Bhadra

The Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, was founded in February 1973. It is a premier social science research institute in India financed primarily by matching grants from the Indian Council for Social Science Research and the Government of West Bengal. The Centre has full academic autonomy and is designed to function democratically.

For some time now, scholars within the broad field of cultural studies have given serious attention to the study of everyday aspects of contemporary society. This grant enables the Centre for Studies in the Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC) to pioneer the historical study of print advertising in Bengal.

Gautam Bhadra, professor of history at the Centre, led the CSSSC's effort to trace, collect and document, classify and conserve Bengali advertisements between 1800 and 1950. Advertisements, he observes, played a vital role in shaping Bengal's economic, social and cultural lifestyles over the past century and a half. On the other hand, they also help to understand the political and technological transformations of the times.

This study researched aspects of the social and cultural history of Bengal, while simultaneously marking changes in print technology. And given that advertisements are primarily designed to attract the attention of the potential customer, Gautam hoped that the study would enable him “to profile the consumer in colonial times.”

Gautam and his colleagues collected “print advertisements, back covers of books, catalogues of commercial concerns, labels, calendars, handbills, posters and booklets” from public and private libraries, personal collections and business institutions. In addition the researchers scrutinized “the manuals and records of advertising agencies.” They also collected visual and written materials, objects such as matchboxes, signboards and handbills, many of which lay scattered in private collections.

The researchers acquired basic artworks, and generated photocopies and microfilms of advertisements appearing in the special or commemorative issues of various papers and periodicals, book jackets, catalogues and trade magazines of establishments such as Signet (publishing), P.M. Bagchi (almanac printing, megaphones) and Senola (gramophone company), sleeves of old records, labels or cartons of medicine, old illustrated calendars of various companies, circus handbills, film posters, introductions and songbooks of films. They examined Bengali manuals on advertising and canvassing guidebooks and papers pertaining to insurance companies; and personal papers, memoirs and drafts of advertising designers and artists.

The compilation was published, and the collected material housed at the Hiteshranjan Sanyal Memorial Collection, Kolkata. Dr Abhijit Bhattacharya, the Centre’s archive officer, supervised the microfilming and photographing of the advertisements and helped to preserve and digitalize these diverse and perishable materials.