Standards of Civilization. Art, Law, and Empire, 1798-1945

17 Mar 2022 04.30 PM - 06.00 PM Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public
Organised by:
Farish Noor

This talk examines discourses of civilization, barbarism, and savagery in the 19th-century. Rather than focusing on how these discourses had been defined in legal documents or political treaties, it looks at the paintings of European and non-European visual artists. 

The prevailing 19th-century conception of civilization was that of the “standard of civilization,” a politico-legal division of the world between the “charmed circle” or “family” of “civilized” nations, and the so-called “barbarians” and “savages.” The main idea behind the standard of civilization was that the barbarians and savages, once they had ostensibly satisfied its criteria, would have been finally accepted in the privileged club of the civilized. The classic narrative that has been told in political theory and international law has been one which moves from the somewhat more open, and potentially critical, conceptions of civilization of the late 18th-century to this more exclusivist 19th-century Eurocentric vision. But how do these more exclusionary 19th-century impulses of the language of civilization fare once we examine “civilization” not just as a political or legal but as an aesthetic discourse? 

Martina Zago is a PhD candidate in Political Theory at the University of British Columbia and a visiting researcher at in the School of Humanities at Nanyang Technological University. She is a graduate of the University of Oxford, LUISS University in Rome, and a professionally-trained concert pianist.