Liza Oliver

Associate Professor of Art

Art historian focusing on 18th- and 19th-century Europe and South Asia, and visual cultures of colonialism, slavery, and global trade.

My research concerns visual culture across Europe, South Asia, and the West Indies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with focus on the intersections between colonialism, science, and capitalism. My research has been supported by fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fulbright, the American Institute of Indian Studies (New Delhi), the French Embassy's Bourse Chateaubriand, the American Philosophical Society, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC), among others.
My current book project, "Famine's Land: Photography, Environment, and Racial Capitalism in Colonial India" explores the many famines that devastated South Asia in the second half of the nineteenth century and how photographs aided in 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 aims to illuminate the fraught convergence of economic liberalism and colonial humanitarianism around the issue of famine in colonial India. An article based on this research recently appeared in The Art Bulletin.
I am currently engaged in several other research projects including British prints pertaining to abolition and the Haitian Revolution in the late eighteenth century to understand the shared rhetoric of sentimentality as deployed by both pro- and anti-slavery advocates. I am on the editorial board of Eighteenth-Century Studies, and I also write for public forums, with essays and opinion pieces published in The New York Times, Boston's NPR blog Cognoscenti, and the Boston Review.
My first book, Art, Trade, and Imperialism in Early Modern French India (Amsterdam University Press, 2019), examined 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 the emergence of global capitalism and the slave trade, the integration of Indian artisinal practices with European botanical study, and the complicated role of Tamil intermediaries in developing French trade, diplomacy, and imperialism in India. It was a finalist for the College Art Association's 2021 Charles Rufus Morey Book Award.
I teach lecture courses on South Asian Art and Architecture (ARTH/SAS 239), Arts of Europe's Enlightenment (ARTH 259), and Nineteenth-century Art (ARTH 289). My seminars include Art and Imperialism in the Long Nineteenth Century (ARTH 312), Empires, Merchants, and Missionaries in Early Modern Eurasia (ARTH 313), Decolonial Art History: Theory, Method, and Praxis (ARTH 390), and Indian and the British (ARTH 397). I have also co-taught with Professor Wes Watters in Astronomy a first-year seminar, The Art of Science since the Scientific Revolution (ARTH/ASTR 112Y).
In my spare time, I'm an avid gardener, mycologist, cook, and knitter. I'm also an animal rights advocate, and the founder and president of the non-profit Fur-Free Massachusetts.

Selected Publications

Complete CV


  • B.A., University of North Florida
  • M.A., University of South Florida
  • M.A., Northwestern University
  • Ph.D., Northwestern University

Current and upcoming courses

  • The scale of the meat industry and its adverse environmental and climate impacts alongside burgeoning scientific understandings of non-human intelligence require urgent reevaluation of our relationship to animals as food: How has visual culture (historical and contemporary), both in advertising and in popular culture, separated meat as a food from the process of animal slaughter that produces it? How do we negotiate between our food traditions and ethical obligation to move away from practices rooted in violence? Why do we value some animals as companions while commodifying others as food? What is speciesism and in what ways can it shape our understanding of animal oppression? We engage these questions and more using visual culture and ethical frameworks to critique the prevailing political and cultural norms that desensitize us to the implications of meat consumption.. Enrollment in this course is by permission of the instructor. Students who are interested in taking this course should fill out this Google Form. (ARTH 324 and PHIL 324 are cross-listed courses.)