DPDF Student Fellowship Competition > DPDF Student Fellowship Competition 2009

Empires of Vision

“Empires of Vision” proposes that global empires and modern regimes of visuality were mutually implicated, and even in important ways constitutive of each other. What specific visual practices and technologies did modern empires cultivate and desire? In turn, how were these transformed through their entanglement in empire building?  With a comparative focus on the British and French empires in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we will explore imperial visual practices related to history and landscape painting; photography; commercial and documentary film; maps and scientific drawings; political prints and advertisements; and object collection, museums and international exhibitions, to understand how the production, circulation, and reception of images fundamentally shaped imperial sovereignty and power. We will also analyze postcolonial deployments of such practices to understand if and how imperial visual imaginaries and techniques are recast and challenged, as well as linger on in Europe’s former colonies. Not least, we will interrogate existing theories of the work of vision through the optic of global imperialism, so as to map the contours of post-colonial reconceptualizations of visuality.

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Field Directors

Martin E. Jay
Professor, University of California, Berkeley, History [ bio ]

Martin Jay is Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. Professor Jay received his PhD in History from Harvard University in 1971. His teaching interests include European intellectual history, visual culture, and critical theory and his current research in on lying in politics. He is the author of numerous books and publications, including The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-50 (1973), Cultural Semantics: Keywords of the Age (1998), and Songs of Experience: Modern American and European Variations on a Universal Theme (2004). Professor Jay serves on the editorial board of Theory and Society, Cultural Critique, and has a regular column in Salmagundi. His work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies among many others.

Sumathi Ramaswamy
Professor, Duke University, History [ bio ]

Sumathi Ramaswamy is Professor of History at Duke University. Professor Ramaswamy received her PhD in History from the University of California, Berkeley in 1992. Prior to joining the faculty to Duke University, Professor Ramaswamy held positions at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan, and was Program Officer of Education, Arts and Culture for The Ford Foundation, India. Her research and teaching interests include colonial and modern South Asian history, South Asian anthropology, Tamil studies, the British Empire, gender studies, cultural studies, history of cartography, and visual studies. She is the author of Passions of the Tongue: Language Devotion in Tamil India, 1891-1970 (1997), The Lost Land of Lemuria: Fabulous Geographies, Catastrophic Histories (2007), and The Goddess and the Nation: Mapping Mother India (2009). Professor Ramaswamy has received research support from a variety of sources including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, The American Institute of Indian Studies, and The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

Recipients

Mustafa Avci
New York University, Ethnomusicology
Köçek (male belly dancers) and the Transformation of Male Belly Dancing throughout the History of Ottoman and Turkish Modernization
[ project summary ]
In this dissertation, it will be argued that the empire of the gaze, starting with the modernization\Westernization efforts of the Ottoman Empire during the second half of the nineteenth century transformed the empire in a radical way that still affects visuality, gender, and regimes of sexuality in contemporary Turkey. Although it might be awkward to argue that Ottoman modernity is an "anti-ocular counter-enlightenment," it is still thought-provoking to deal with the Ottoman and Turkish modernity project as an in-between mode neither as ocularcentric as the occident, nor as aural centric as it has been assumed by Orientalist discourses. My project on Köçek (male belly dancers) will address the transformation in the homoerotic image of these dancers. Although there is not a colonizer-colonized relationship between the West and Ottoman Empire, there is an uneven power relationship. This modernization experience transforming the old hybrid forms also created completely new hybrid forms in music, literature, painting, architecture, urban geography, photography, and iconography. Looking at the modernizing narratives of the repressed within the Ottoman Empire with a post-colonial awareness is necessary in order to understand different experiences of modernity.
Jill Giulia Campaiola
Rutgers University, Media Studies
Local Roots and Global Wings: Television Drama and Hybridity in Moroccan Cultural Identities
[ project summary ]
Television connects Moroccans to the world, as they are able to watch programs coming from various places such as France - the former colonial power - , the wider Arab world, and the United States. Through ethnographic fieldwork focusing on the most popular local and foreign TV series currently shown in Morocco, as well as their audiences, I will explore how postcolonial identities in Morocco are negotiated and articulated through these media texts. Recent research on mediated globalization has shown that the local and the global interact in media texts and form “hybrid” identities, but no study has yet fully explored the idea that the local and the global could be the two ends of a single continuum, in which individuals may decide to stay more or less rooted in their locality or to more or less mentally travel to remote places. This project opens a new line of inquiry by asking what makes individuals decide to open themselves up to the rest of the world or not and how television series can be used for the purpose of mental emigration. Central to this project is the idea that individuals may have a certain degree of “agency” in deciding how much they want to become “global citizens”, although literature on "hybridity" traditionally emphasizes deterritorialization and lack of control.
Josefina de la Maza Chevesich
State University of New York at Stony Brook, Art and Art History
Picturing the Visual Culture of Decolonization: Mexico and Peru (1750-1850)
[ project summary ]
Focusing on the cases of Mexico and Peru between 1750 and 1850, my project aims to analyze Latin American visual culture during the decolonization process. The main goal of this research is to examine how certain visual practices were transformed, contested or maintained in the course of the transition from colony to republic, paying special attention to the relationship between forms of visual domination and hierarchical social representations, and the limits of the social–political discourse that characterized the period. Paintings, photographs, prints, political cartoons, and scientific illustrations constitute the essential visual corpus of this investigation. By studying these images –including their production process, routes of circulation, and strategies of commodification- this project will address topics such as the visual representation of the collapse of an imperial order and the advent of a post-imperial one, the pervasive influence of visual imperial and colonial practices in post-colonial imaginaries, the divergent depiction of identity in a Creole setting, and the resignification of colonial categories of the representation of reality after the independence wars.
Christine M. DeLucia
Yale University, American Studies
The Memory Frontier: Tracing the Legacies of King Philip's War, 1675 to the Present
[ project summary ]
This is a study of King Philip's War and the cross-cultural legacy of a colonial crisis. It argues that this late seventeenth-century war, a transformative moment in Native-settler relations in the Northeast, has remained a powerful touchstone for articulations of identity through more than three centuries, for Native and non-Native communities alike. The project focuses on practices of remembrance and mourning that have unfolded in sites as diverse as literature, monuments, museums, artwork, performances, and especially the physical environment. Landscape, it contends, has been used in very different ways by Native and non-Native peoples in their accountings of the war: stripped bare of minority cultural presence and memory (the "vanished" Indian) to make way for an Anglo mythos of New England innocence; or envisioned as replete with ancestral meanings, traces of trauma, and grounds for community endurance. Extending the field of vision beyond the conventional bounds of southeastern New England, it also looks at memory-formation on the far frontiers of Maine and New Hampshire, in diasporic Native communities of southern Québec, and among descendents of enslaved Native prisoners-of-war, living today in Bermuda. Challenging the idea that the colonial period and its violences are matters of the distant past, the project suggests instead their enduring cultural and political power into the present. It will be a deep history of the Northeast and its far frontiers, examining many layers of meaning for many communities. Creation and preservation of "place-sense," it suspects, can be both tools of marginalization and erasure, and means of resistance and regeneration.
Melissa Rose Heer
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Art History
Locating Bangalore: Issues of Contemporary Art in a Global City
[ project summary ]
My research looks at contemporary artistic practices and visual cultures of Bangalore, India. While I focus on the work of living artists based in the city, I consider their artwork in relation to a longer history of Bangalore, its cultural institutions, productions and spaces. Thus, I reflect on Bangalore’s extraordinary transformation from a colonial cantonment town to a capital favored by retired professionals to a booming metropolis that is home to information and biotechnology corporations and most recently to multiple contemporary art galleries. I examine how contemporary artists critically engage problems of representation that have arisen alongside discourses of post-colonialism, development and globalization. I also consider the diverse ways in which hand painted and large commercially printed billboards and LED displays have transformed the visual landscape of Bangalore. In doing so I hope to reflect on urban visual experience in postcolonial South Asia and address politics of representation in a global art market.
Jessica L. Horton
University of Rochester, Art and Art History
Beyond the (First) Nation: Cosmopolitan Memory in Contemporary Indigenous Art and Film
[ project summary ]
As North American First Nations artists of the past two decades are increasingly drawn into transnational visual networks, they are challenged to create artworks that bridge local, indigenous histories and politics with cosmopolitan concern. This dissertation proposes to address a current dearth of scholarly attention to new modes of visualizing indigenous politics amidst a proliferation of globally visible art biennales and film festivals. Through a series of case studies of individual artists whose work has been shown in internationally prominent venues, I propose to examine the diverse ways in which they seek to transform these globalized institutions into interactive forums for working through divisive memories and histories. My goal is to expand on existing models for understanding contemporary indigenous visual production by paying close critical attention to works that transcend the historically localized boundaries of Native art and politics. This project additionally aims to make a broad theoretical contribution by considering the relevance of memory studies to theories of cosmopolitanism.
Saydia G. Kamal
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Anthropology
Portraits of Vibrio Cholera: Representing Disease and Fashioning Postcolonial Nation-state in Bangladesh
[ project summary ]
In 1960, a major cholera research laboratory was established in East Pakistan, one that would grow following Bangladeshi independence into an international diarrhea disease research center. Drawing on theoretical and methodological insights from science and technology studies and anthropology, I will examine the ways visual practices of science of the Center represents cholera. Tracing images from British colonial to intercolonial Pakistani to postcolonial Bangladesh, my project will explore motifs in these visual narratives that represent the nation state and its citizens. To this end I will examine the larger scientific narrative of cholera through different kinds of images (microscopic slides, maps, photographs etc.) that articulate its experience in Bangladesh through shifting regimes. As an endeavor of historical ethnography, my research will follow the multi-sited production and dissemination of such images from the collection of blood sample in rural village to the Laboratory in Dhaka to its publication in international renowned scientific journal. By tracing the iconography of a major national scientific institution, my study will demonstrate how deteritorialization of the bodily experience of cholera becomes a significant marker of territorial sovereignty in post colonial times.
Andrea L. Korda
University of California, Santa Barbara, Art History and Architecture
The Graphic and Social Realism: Print Culture and Painting in Victorian London
[ project summary ]
What role do images play in producing knowledge? My dissertation addresses this question by looking at the Graphic, an illustrated newspaper launched by William Thomas in London in 1869, and Social Realist paintings it inspired in the 1870s by Luke Fildes, Hubert Herkomer and Frank Holl. Their work represents a renegotiation of conventional divisions between painting and print culture, offering a unique opportunity to consider how different visual media are expected to produce different types of knowledge and awareness. In taking up this problem, I pursue three avenues of analysis. First, I compare the Graphic with more conventional newspapers that preceded it and with the Social Realist paintings it inspired in order to consider the claims and expectations attached to each type of image. Second, I examine how the subjectivity of the image-maker was conceived across different media, resulting in different kinds of claims to objectivity and models of knowledge production. Third, I address the question of reception and consider the role of the image in creating imagined communities. Unpublished correspondence by Thomas, Herkomer, Fildes and Holl are essential resources for assessing how they conceived of the respective roles of painting and printed illustration in communicating knowledge.
Daegan R Miller
Cornell University, History
The Witness Trees: Imagining America Landscapes of Possibility in a Countermodern 19th-Century
[ project summary ]
“Who are we? where are we?” asked Henry David Thoreau in 1846. His questions form the core of my dissertation: how did 19th century Americans, those annihilators of space and time, answer Thoreau? How was it that the questions came to be asked at all? And how was it that place and identity came to be linked? By whom? And how frequently? This project will be a cultural and environmental history of the US from 1845 to 1890. By peering through the analytical lenses of spatial theory, cultural landscape studies, and environmental criticism at surveying and cartography, landscape painting and photography, literature and travel accounts, and the cultural and metaphorical uses of trees and forests, I hope to show that an important strain of American spatial imagination questioned the very culture of imperial expansion in a time of western modernization, empire, and increasing global interconnection.
Deniz Turker
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Art History and Architecture
Between Resistance and Emulation: Ottoman Expatriates and their Parisian Salons, 1855-1871
[ project summary ]
My proposed dissertation project centers on Khalil Sherif Pasha, an Ottoman diplomat of the nineteenth-century who lived and worked in various cosmopolitan cities of Europe and amassed remarkable collections of art. It is through the life and times of this nineteenth-century man-of-letters that I will triangulate various cultural interactions between an Ottoman Empire in decline, a quasi-independent Egypt on the rise, and a Second Empire France offering myriad modernities to its two “Oriental’ allies. The two intertwined aims of this dissertation are to reveal that a Westernization of the East was a more complicated process than a mere unidirectional borrowing of technologies and that the figures involved in these processes of transference imparted more intricate cultural identities than the discourse on Orientalism categorically allows. The philanthropic activities of the Pasha involved the establishment of underground Salons specifically for expatriated reform-seeking Ottoman and Egyptian intellectuals, where notions such as imperialism, paternalism and nationalism in all their dialectical aspects were deliberated while the French Empire was held as the empirical (but never the idealized) model. I will investigate these cultural negotiations through close-analyses both of works of art (collected, commissioned or made) and print media (pamphlets, newspapers and popular literature) that were cultivated as a result of these gatherings, chronicle their often-clandestine circulation and assess their sociopolitical impact on the East.
Katherine Ann Wiley
Indiana University Bloomington, Anthropology
Negotiating Out of Slavery: Visualizing Freedom through Economic and Semiotic Practices
[ project summary ]
My research will examine how female Haratin (descendents of former slaves), a population which has been marginalized for centuries by successive empires, are negotiating their positions amongst existing power structures in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. On one level, my research will consider how French colonial representations of race and gender influenced (and continue to influence) female Haratins’ social positions and access to power. On another level, my work will examine how Haratin women in the twenty-first century navigate through the social hierarchy that these empires established in part by capitalizing on the increasing economic opportunities that their participation in the production of veils provides and also by using the designs that they produce and wear to differentiate themselves in their society. This research is important since it will examine how disempowered groups employ a variety of strategies – from the economic to the semiotic – to gain power and manipulate their positions in the polity. How successful Haratin women are at claiming power and meeting their aspirations through these processes will provide insight into the level of freedom that these former slaves enjoy in Mauritania today.
Marieke Justine Wilson
Johns Hopkins University, Anthropology
God is in the Medium: Theater, Evangelical Film, and the Evolution of Visual Regimes in the Nigerian Post-Colony
[ project summary ]
Examining the production techniques and aesthetics of contemporary evangelical films in Nigeria tells us the story of the evolution, fusion, and metamorphosis of representational techniques evidenced in an early colonial influence on local theatrical forms, which long preceded colonization. While local traditional theater groups were premised on the notion that oral performance and audience were mutually constitutive (particularly in the case of Yoruba plays and recitations), some of the earliest touring theater groups also employed western narrative conventions and devices to bolster the hyperbole, deep metaphor, irony, allegory, and comic play on words that already infused the genre. With the emergence of evangelical theater groups after the division of the National Church in 1945, it became clear that the salvational message promoted was performed and represented by reference both to the possibility of spiritual and material gain contained in the vision of capitalist modernization earlier discarded by radical leftist theater groups and to ideas of a lively interpretive community surrounding the reception and internalization of God’s word. Ironically, many of the early evangelical groups were deeply opposed to the colonial endeavor, and deployed western techniques to establish a forceful presence by means of the degradation of the colonial other.