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Tracing Territory: The Visual Culture of Danish(-Norwegian) Colonialism in the Caribbean



Birkeli, Helene Engnes;

(2022)

Tracing Territory: The Visual Culture of Danish(-Norwegian) Colonialism in the Caribbean.

Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London).


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Abstract

This thesis analyses visualisations of territory in the US Virgin Islands — then known as the Danish West Indies (Dansk Vestindien) between 1750 and 1850. The material discussed includes maps, drawings, engravings and paintings. The first chapter focuses on the most decisive cartographic representation of the island St Croix in the nineteenth century, designed by Peter Lotharius Oxholm and engraved by the Copenhagen printmaker G. N. Angelo in 1799. It uses the term ‘cutting’ in order to capture how the map animates modes of action and violence in plantation society: the cultivation of sugar, imperial landscaping, surveying of land for cartographic representation, and the technique of engraving itself. Chapter 2 focuses on two copper-engraved prints depicting the confrontation between Danish and British vessels off the coast of St Thomas in 1801. The engravings are compared with other forms of navigational and marine imagery to suggest that the process of engraving enabled a visual invocation of dissolution of colonial order, complicating literature that emphasises the discipline and power wielded by ‘the line.’ I also draw connections between the cartographic grid that seeks to discipline the land and various representations of Danish slave ships. Chapter 3 explores landscape paintings and drawings through the lens of colonial infrastructure. Central to my analysis is a pair of plantation prospects depicting Mary’s Fancy on St Croix (c. 1854), which, as the thesis establishes, can likely be attributed to the Danish painter Carsten Frederik Henrichsen (1824-1897). One of these paintings forefronts a black woman inhabiting a crossroad. Informed by Katherine McKittrick’s ‘plantation futures’ I read this as an ambivalent metaphor for the islands’ formal end to slavery (1848). All three chapters point towards a conceptualisation of landscape that is deeply invested in (violent) contact zones and an invocation of territoriality as embodied, sensate reality.

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