“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.

This research field stands at the crossroads of two of the most vibrant interdisciplinary fields in contemporary humanist and social scientific scholarship: colonial and post-colonial studies and visual culture. Both transcend national boundaries and are comparative in their approach. Both focus on issues of power, subjectivity (and subjectification), and the intertwining of culture and the body. Both draw on a wealth of materials that have traditionally been marginal to mainstream scholarship. And both are still maturing in ways that are not easy to predict.  In the workshops we will explore visual regimes as comprising actors and artifacts, practices of looking and ideologies of sight, all articulated in complex networks that are in turn intertwined in the political and symbolic economies of colonial and postcolonial global cultures.  Our emphasis will be on visual flows, hybridity, and interconnectedness that will not privilege one center (i.e. Europe) over others, even as we seek to demonstrate the conceptual virtues of adopting a poly-centric approach that attends to the co-existence of multiple forms, uneven temporalities, and plural ways of seeing and being seen.

We invite students who are interested in participating in trans-disciplinary and comparative conversations about the image and the visual from a wide array of disciplines including anthropology, art history, architectural studies, critical theory, film studies, history, literary and cultural studies, and sociology. Rather than force a uniform methodology on a field where the rule is still eclectic experimentation, we want to be true to the still evolving dynamic of the subject and work with students towards developing particular approaches to the specific questions their work seeks to answer.


  • Mustafa Avci

    New York University (NYU), Ethnomusicology

    Köçek (male belly dancers) and the Transformation of Male Belly Dancing throughout the History of Ottoman and Turkish Modernization
    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-Veen

    Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Media Studies

    Local Roots and Global Wings: Television Drama and Hybridity in Moroccan Cultural Identities
    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 (SUNY) / Stony Brook University, Art and Art History

    Picturing the Visual Culture of Decolonization: Mexico and Peru (1750-1850)
    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
    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
    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
    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 / Chapel Hill, Anthropology

    Portraits of Vibrio Cholera: Representing Disease and Fashioning Postcolonial Nation-state in Bangladesh
    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
    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
    “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 (MIT), Art History and Architecture

    Between Resistance and Emulation: Ottoman Expatriates and their Parisian Salons, 1855-1871
    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
    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
    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.