Liza Oliver

Liza Oliver
liza.oliver@wellesley.edu
(781) 283-2035
Art
South Asia Studies
B.A., University of North Florida; M.A., University of South Florida; M.A., Ph.D., Northwestern University
Liza Oliver
Assistant Professor of Art

Art historian focusing on 18th- and 19th-century Europe and South Asia, colonialism, Indian Ocean trade, and intersections of art and science.


My research concerns aesthetic and intellectual exchange between Europe and South Asia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and attendant methods for interpreting material culture in cross-cultural settings both within and beyond colonial frameworks. I am particularly drawn to the transition from mercantile to colonial forms of interchange and how visual culture is integral to understanding such a momentous shift in the structure of the world.

I teach lecture courses on the Arts of Europe’s Enlightenment, Nineteenth-century Art, and South Asian Art and Architecture, along with co-teaching the introductory survey of art history. During the 2017-18 academic year, I will also teach a seminar entitled Imperial Entanglements: Art and Colonialism in the Long 19th Century. My other seminars cover such themes as British India, art and science in Europe, art and global trade in the early modern period, and visual propaganda from the French Revolution through the Napoleonic Empire.

My current book project, Empire of Hunger: Representing Famine and the Colonial Body Politic in British India, explores how the ongoing epidemics of famine in South Asia during British rule, which killed approximately 60 million Indians, were visually constructed in relation to the British colonial state apparatus. It argues that representations of famine actively worked to justify or critique the British presence in India as they simultaneously came to define Indian and British understandings of modern atrocity—preventable disaster caused by a moral and civic failure—articulated through the bodies of colonial subjects.

My first book project, Forging French India: Art, Science, and Diplomacy in the Early Modern Era, which is currently in review, explores the integration of the French East India Company with the eighteenth-century textile industries of India’s southeast coast to examine three main themes: Indian textiles’ role in in the emergence of global capitalism and the slave trade, the contributions of Indian textile producers to European botanical study, and the role of Tamil merchants in developing French trade in India and the Indian Ocean. More broadly, the book seeks to look beyond a nation-state framework as a means to structure our knowledge of the world by calling attention to how maritime trade networks united the globe in the early modern period. My fascination with the French presence in southeast India stems from a longstanding interest in the processes of European imperialism and colonialism, which has also led to publications on the Napoleonic Description de l’Egypte and the Brazilian landscapes of the seventeenth-century Dutch painter Frans Post.