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June 19th 2024: Lecture by Diego Tamburini via Zoom 18.00

Changes in the production of Burmese textiles in the long 19th century – a focus on dye and fibre characterisation of Karen garments from the British Museum’s collection


The 19th century is a complex period in Myanmar’s history, marked by transition from the Konbaung dynasty (Myanmar’s last royal house) to the early phase of complete British colonial rule (1885-1914). Tremendous innovations occurred in this time period and evidence exists that the scientific advances and technological developments taking place in Europe impacted Myanmar’s traditional forms of crafts. Synthetic dyes represent one of the most important categories of new materials created in this period, and their introduction from Europe to Asia is an understudied topic. Moreover, little in-depth scientific work on Myanmar minority textiles has been undertaken.

For these reasons, a pilot study has been conducted at the British Museum focusing on the dye analysis and fibre characterisation of six Karen textiles with the aim to investigate how the fibres and dyes of such textiles changed over the course of the 19th century and how the changes related to local and colonial trade networks.


Some of the results were showcased in the BM’s Burma to Myanmar exhibition (2 Nov 2023 - 11 Feb 2024), resonating with the exhibition themes and underscoring the diversity and interconnectedness of the country, and the resourcefulness and skill of its people. These insights into Myanmar's material cultures open a window not just to the objects on display but also to the people who, through their craft, have woven their story across time and artificial borders. 


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