This talk considers how spectatorial sympathy, a governing principle of eighteenth-century British art and literature, was deployed by opposing sides of the debate on Britain’s slave trade in the decades preceding its abolition.
Considering broadsides, travel narratives, and caricatures, it argues for the ways in which sentiment became a common visual currency among both abolitionists and the pro-slavery lobby, with each side respectively seeking to sever or reaffirm the connection between morality on the one hand and self-interest and economic prosperity on the other.
About Liza Oliver
Liza Oliver is an Associate Professor of Art History and South Asia Studies at Wellesley College. Her research and publications focus on European colonial and imperial histories in South Asia and the West Indies. Her first book, Art, Trade, and Imperialism in Early Modern French India (2019), examined the integration of the French East India Company with the eighteenth-century textile industries of India’s Coromandel Coast.
Her current book project, Empire of Hunger: Representing Famine, Land, and Labor in Colonial India, explores the many famines that devastated South Asia in the second half of the nineteenth century and how photographs aided the constitution of British colonial policies around famine, land, and agricultural labor.
Uniting art historical analysis with political ecology and environmental and food studies, it illuminates the fraught convergence of economic liberalism and humanitarianism in colonial India.