NCRS: Colonialism and Literature

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For more information on the Nineteenth Century Research Seminar Series, including forthcoming seminars, check out the Facebook page and website.


Nineteenth Century Research Seminar Series

Spring 2018 Seminar 3: Colonialism and Literature

Speakers:

  • Nicola John: Cleopatra and the Colonial Context: Looking Closer at Juan Luna
    • Nicola John is a second year postgraduate research student at the University of St Andrews, where she is working towards a PhD in Art History. Her research concerns the use of pre-colonial material culture, especially costume, in the visual language of modern art in Indonesia and the Philippines. 
  • Elizabeth Chant: Cartography and the Argentine Nation: mapping the mítico sur
    • Elizabeth Chant is a PhD candidate in the Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies, School of European Languages, Cultures and Society, University College London. Her research focuses on cultural representations of Patagonia, and how said representations vary in different languages and sub-regions, considering the conflict of forces such as time-space compression, indigenous epistemology and neo-colonialism in various media. 
  • Bowen Wang: Mark Twain’s “China Complex”: His Literary Portrayal of the Chinese of the Nineteenth Century
    • Bowen is a postgraduate studying in MSc Literature and Modernity of the University of Edinburgh. He holds a BA in English Language and Literature from Sun Yat-sen University, with an exchange year in English/American Studies from the University of Southern Denmark.

Nicola and Liz's talks both concerned colonialism across the Spanish empire, one through the perspective of history of art, the other through the perspective of cartography.

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Nicola discussed Juan Luna's The Death of Cleopatra from 1881. The historical background to the painting is colonialism and nationalism in the Philippines: they wanted full representation in the Spanish government. Art played an anti-colonial role, and Luna himself had a role in the anti-Spanish movement. In the painting, Cleopatra chooses to die sovereign than live colonised, and the Madrid audience observing the painting take the same role as the roman soldiers entering to discover Cleopatra dead: the third wall is broken to complete the painting.

Liz spoke about representations of Patagonia - in what is now known as Argentina - in 19th century cartography. 'Patagonia' was part of the Spanish empire, and they attempted to colonise it many times. We find a colonising agenda maps of the region. They often lack a representation of people, erasing the provicial and territorial divisons of indigenous cultures. The result is a history of violent geography. Indigenous cultures are sometimes named but their territory isn't indicated, diminishing their claims to Patagonia. 

Bowen offered a different but complementary account about the prejudice and colonial attitudes towards the Chinese immigrants in San Francisco through the writing of Mark Twain. One of the works Bowen examined was Twain's 'Disgraceful Persecution of a Boy', from Galaxy Magazine, May 1870, which is about the stoning of a Chinese man. It is indicative of the anti-Chinese bias in wider american society at this time, intensified by Californian nationalists who thought that the Chinese were competing unfairly with the Americans. Another of Bowen's examples was 'John Chinaman in New York', from the Galaxy Magazine, September 1870, which contains racial stereotypes and colonial descriptions of dress.

The next NCRS is on April 26, on the topic of 'Philosophy and Literature'.