Slavery and the Art of Colonialism

IAS/SIR Speaker Series: Professor Philippa Levine

This talk aims to underscore the long association between nakedness, race and slavery, as one element in a larger project which argues that nakedness was a key historical construct on which morality, aesthetics and scientific practice have drawn significantly. In the European empires, where the calibration of difference was paramount, nakedness acquired hierarchical significance and came to define savagery and subjecthood; even earlier it had signified absence and loss. As debates around Atlantic and other forms of slavery crystallised from the eighteenth century, a critical politics developed around the politics of depicting the slave body, whether visually or textually. Marcus Woods provocatively asked “what do we want to learn from the visual archive of slavery?” This is an attempt to answer that important question.

Professor Philippa Levine serves as the Walter Prescott Webb Chair in History and Ideas, as well as the Co-Director of the Program of British Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research specialities include the British Empire; intersections of race and gender; and science, medicine, and society.