History of Art


Helene Engnes Birkeli

PhD supervisor: Dr. Mechthild Fend
Working title for PhD: 'Translation, Sensation and Colonial Landscapes: A Visual History of the Danish West Indies, 1780-1855'

My research focuses on representations of landscape and place in the Danish-Norwegian West Indies between 1780-1850, including maps, paintings and prints. In this, I am interested in the ways in which contact zones between the Afro-Caribbean and the European and Danish emerge in these images, particularly through media and techniques. These contact zones are characterised particularly by the struggle between slave resistance and the imposed order of colonialism. From mapping with its hybrid use of images and text, and harbour views, my project will eventually consider Camille Pissarro and Fritz Melbye’s encounters with the Caribbean, confronting Eurocentric narratives of the development of nineteenth century painting. As a conceptual model to rethink representations of place, my project explores landscapes as visual metaphors for bodies: as sites of conflict and sensation, vulnerable to damage and transformation.
My PhD is funded by the UCL Graduate and Overseas Research Scholarships.


  • ‘Touching Difference: Race and Portraiture in Danish Colonial Space’, in A Comparative Literary History of Modern Slavery, Vol. 1. Edited by Mads Anders Baggesgaard, Madeleine Dobie and Karen-Margrethe Simonsen (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing) [forthcoming]
  • ‘Cutting the contact zone: race, temporality and history in Peter Lotharius Oxholm’s map of St. Croix (1799)’, Object 21 (2020), pp. 7-30. 
  • Review of Charmaine Nelson, Slavery, Geography and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Marine Landscapes of Montreal and Jamaica (Routledge, 2016), Object 20 (2018) 

Conference papers and presentations:

  • 'Imaging colonial conflict in the Danish West Indies, 1801–1806: delay and the dis-continuous line', in the seminar series Encounters, London Group of Historical Geographers, Institute of Historical Research, 11 February, 2020. 
  • ‘Cutting the “contact zone”: bodies, temporality and history in Peter Lotharius Oxholm’s map of St. Croix (1799)’ presented at the Association of Art Historians Annual Conference, Brighton, 6 April, 2019. 
  • ‘Shivering marks: Cartographic Violence in the Danish West Indies’, presented at the panel discussion ‘Land and Confinement’ at the Past Imperfect seminar at UCL, 28 January, 2019.
  • ‘Sensation and the disruption of colonial order – landscapes in the Danish West Indies, 1780-1855,’ presented at ‘Unfinished Histories: Art, Memory, and the Visual Politics of Coloniality,’ University of Copenhagen, 30 November – 1 December, 2017.


  • PGTA on the BA course ‘Object Lessons’ in the Arts and Sciences department, UCL, January-April 2021.
  • 2018-2019: PGTA for HART 0001, History of Art and its Objects