University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Douglas Fordham, "Aquatint Empires"

Project Summary:  My research examines the importance of what used to be known as 'English Coloured Books' to the conceptualization and visualization of the British Empire. A great many of these images were produced in the medium of aquatint, a tonal intaglio process that encouraged certain types of visual themes, historical narratives, and viewer responses. Three ambitious and beautifully illustrated publications lie at the heart of my account, Thomas Daniell’s Hindoo Excavations (1803), William Alexander’s Costume of China (1805), and Samuel Daniell’s African Scenery and Animals (1804–05). My research has taken me to two of the three locales represented in these books, namely Western India and Southern Africa, and I look forward to traveling to Beijing in September. I have completed most of my primary research in archives in London, New Haven, Johannesburg, and Cape Town, and I’m looking forward to pressing ahead with analysis and writing of the book.

While based in art-historical methods, this project could also be described as a historicist version of media studies, as I examine a moment in which British artists traveled further than ever before, but were compelled to send their drawings and paintings back to London to be reproduced and distributed. Bibliographic studies, and my work with the Rare Book School, has also been invaluable to the questions and methods pursued here. My research asks what these publications might reveal about Britain’s place in the world following the Treaty of Amiens of 1802. More broadly, it considers seriality as empire: how did elaborate aquatint publications color British visions of Africa, Asia, and beyond?

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