CAA Annual Conference 2019 Session: "Ecocritical Approaches to Colonial Art History (1600-1900)"
Organizers: C.C. McKee (Ph.D. Candidate, Northwestern University) & Claudia Swan (Associate Professor of Art History, Northwestern University)
A great deal of recent art historical scholarship on the colonial world addresses the visual production of natural science and its relationship to ecology. Scholars have pinpointed botanical, entomological, natural historical, and ethnographical imagery as crucial to understanding and classifying the natural world, beginning with New World colonization and intensified maritime trade in the fourteenth century. Increasing contact with non-European cultures resulted in a flood of new plants, animals, minerals, and artefacts into Europe from across the globe. European exploration and settlement subordinated (often violently) autochthonous knowledge of the natural world developed by indigenous peoples, slaves, and their descendants—in the East and West Indies as well as the Middle East and Asia, cultures with which Europe had long fostered contact. Visual representations of colonial ecologies proved to be a foundational means by which Europeans understood their increasingly interconnected world and asserted dominance over people, land, and resources.
This panel asks: In what ways do art historical approaches informed, for example, by ecocriticism and new materialism, open on to new ways of understanding visual byproducts of colonialism? In what ways can a more capacious attention to colonial ecologies contribute to our understanding and analysis of the visual production of the non-European world? How did these ecologies shape the representation of Europe in return? This panel seeks proposals that examine the roles of science, art, and/or environmental policy in an ecological approach to colonial art history, garden history, and visual histories of science.