University of Nottingham

Empire and landscape in the long eighteenth century (workshops)

Project outline

These workshops sought to analyse the ways in which very different landscapes within the British Empire came to be defined and represented in relation to one other during the 18th and 19th centuries. Focusing on the Caribbean and British India ('West and East Indies'), it considered how the physical character, pictorial visualisations and cultural perception of these imperial possessions were shaped by natural elements, artistic conventions, and ideological concepts associated with the English landscape. The project also explored how a long-standing ideal of the English landscape emergent in metropolitan culture in this period was both bound up with, and made distinctive from non-domestic and exotic 'Indian' landscapes.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Harewood House from the North-East 1798. Tate, London. Harewood House


The four linked inter-disciplinary workshops brought together leading specialists in imperial landscape studies and created an awareness of different scholarly perspectives (from the history of art, geography, cartography, archaeology, english and history) on the transformation of the visual arts associated with the experience of empire. Non-academic institutions, including the British Library, Royal Archives, Oxford Archaeology and Harewood House, also made important contributions.

The seminars focused on 'Trans-Imperial Estate Management in England and the West Indies in the Eighteenth Century', 'Painted and Graphic Representations of the English and Indian landscape, 1780-1820', and 'Photography and Victorian India'. The final round table workshop brought all participants together to reflect upon and develop points of contact established in the initial seminars and produce ideas for future work. All seminars were well attended with high quality and complementary papers presented stimulating interesting debates.

Numerous representations of the East and West Indies in a variety of media were unearthed, opening up new questions about the imperial traffic of ideas, commodities and images relating to landscape. There was a realisation that more work was being done on the ways in which representations of imperial landscapes in India and the Caribbean were shaped by the concerns of the metropolis, rather than on the ways in which the representation of the British landscape was itself changing in response to the imagery and awareness of these alternative, imperial territories.

Ongoing influence

All workshop participants expressed strong desires to continue the conversations they had started during the Landscape and Environment project. The photography of Victorian India really captured the imagination of workshop participants and it was collectively agreed that the material was rich and interesting enough to form the basis of a larger research project in the future. This may take the form of a collaborative project whereby the photography of the British landscape would also be considered in order to examine overlaps, contrasts and dialogues. A project of this type would lend itself to an exhibition geared towards both specialists and the general public. A further conference 'Britain and India: intersections in visual culture, 1800-1900' was held in February 2009.

The workshops also had a really important impact on the research going on at the Department of History of Art and the Centre for 18th Century Studies at the University of York, kick-starting a sustained discussion regarding the need to deepen research profiles in the study of Empire. Workshop participants from outside the University of York have become further involved in University research projects, and a focus on the photography of Victorian India has been maintained through an AHRC funded Doctoral Studentship on 'The Indian "Mutiny": Visual Culture and the Coverage of Colonisation, 1857-1870'.

Plans are also underway for a conference that will reassess the state of scholarship on landscape painting in Britain, 1700-1850 in light of the discussions that look place during the workshops.


  1. Trans-Imperial estate management in England and the West Indies in the eighteenth century
  2. Painted and graphic representations of the English and Indian landscape, 1780-1820
  3. Photography and Victorian India
  4. Roundtable
Green Castle Estate sugar plantation, Antigua by Nicholas Pocock, c.1801.


View of Lucknow by Samuel Bourne, c. 1864-65.


Award details

Duration: October 2006 - June 2007, duration 9 months  

Principal Investigator:
Professor Mark Hallett

Higher Education Institution:
Department for History of Art, University of York


Landscape and Environment Programme

School of Geography
University Park
University of Nottingham
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 84 66071