History of Art


Helene Engnes Birkeli



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 and supervised by Dr Mechthild Fend.

Research interests

Slavery and visual culture, Caribbean studies, cartography and geography, print culture, landscape painting, decolonial and postcolonial theories, sensation.


MA in History of Art from UCL, 2015-2016. My dissertation ‘Limits of Intimacy: Colonial Photographs of Black Nannies and White Children in the Danish West Indies, 1905-1910’ was nominated for the AAH Postgraduate Dissertation Prize. Distinction.

Master of Arts in History of Art from the University of Edinburgh, 2010-2014. First.


‘Review of Charmaine Nelson, Slavery, Geography and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Marine Landscapes of Montreal and Jamaica' (Routledge, 2016), Object 20 (2018) [forthcoming]

Conference papers

‘Cutting the “contact zone”: boundaries and the body of history in Peter Lotharius Oxholm’s map of St. Croix (1799)’ presented at ‘“Art-Making as Empire-Making”: Landscape Art and its Colonial Specificities,’ PhD workshop led by Charmaine Nelson, University of Copenhagen, May 29, 2018.

 ‘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.

 ‘The Black Domestic Worker in the White Family: The Affective After-Life of Slavery in St. Croix, 1905-1915,’ presented at ‘Slavery and Emotion’ organised by the Reading Slavery Project, Aarhus University. Domaine de la Pagerie, Martinique, 6 January, 2017.


2018-2019: Teaching Assistant for HART 0001, History of Art and its Objects

Other roles

Current: Editorial assistant, Oxford Art Journal