#12 The ‘Long’ 18th Century? (Fall 2021)


Architectural “Worlding”: Fischer von Erlach and the Eighteenth-Century Fabrication of a History of Architecture
Sussan Babaie

Enlightenment as Thought Made Public: Joshua Reynolds’s Portrait of a Black Man
Andrei Pop

Britain, Empire, and Execution in the Long Eighteenth Century
Meredith Gamer

Maritime Media in the Long Eighteenth Century
Maggie M. Cao

Poq’s Temporal Sovereignty and the Innuit Printing of Colonial History
Bart Pushaw


The Mughals, the Marathas, and the Refracted Long Eighteenth Century – A Dialogue
Chanchal Dadlani and Holly Shaffer

Teaching the “Long” Eighteenth Century – A Conversation & Resources
Eleanore Neumann, with Anna Arabindan-Kesson, Nebahat Avcıoğlu, Emma Barker, Sarah Betzer, Ananda Cohen-Aponte, Dipti Khera, Prita Meier, Nancy Um, and Stephen Whiteman

Issue Editors
Sarah Betzer, University of Virginia
Dipti Khera, New York University and Institute of Fine Arts

The ‘Long’ 18th Century?

If art historical periodization constitutes a sort of prospect, at the heart of the matter for this issue is what sort of prospect, or terrain, or subjectivity, is interpellated by the ubiquitous phrase, “the ‘long’ eighteenth century”? Two sets of clouds bookend the questions about unstable temporalities and territories, overlooked bodies and artifacts addressed in “The ‘Long’ Eighteenth Century?”: Thomas Baldwin’s 1786 A Balloon Prospect from Above the Clouds and the Zoom clouds that have been the sites of our digital encounters since March 2020. Baldwin’s Balloon Prospect telegraphs the desire to capture, distill, and plot an unfettered view from above. At the same time, engraved onto the paper is also the fragility of occupying such a prospect: beyond puffs of clouds, fields of green, gridded settlement geometries, and the snaking pink river, threading though the chromatic view is the faint black line of Baldwin’s meandering 30-mile trajectory, its looping path a testament to the sheer uncertainty of the enterprise. This print evokes the dynamics involved in “worlding” the study of eighteenth-century art in scholarship and curricula over the past two decades: the significant transformation of art historical inquiry into expanded geographical and cultural terrains alongside of which we have seen the rise of a “long” eighteenth century. While the habitual slicing up of Britain’s eighteenth century to 1688-1815 is not that far out of alignment with France’s 1643-1815, it looks very different from the perspective of, for instance, South Asia, where an end point has tended rather to be located in the 1830s. Even as new maps of the long eighteenth century are delimited, the temporality and teleology of eighteenth-century European colonialisms frame prospects­—the faint timelines from localized grounds and the deep markings of balloons that scudded along, often minimally acknowledged.

When the focus on histories of colonialism and enslavement forces us to look anew at the bodies, lands, and knowledge presented in art, how do our narratives change and how do the sites and objects of our inquiry shift? What are the implications of this broadened scope of inquiry for disciplinary habits of locution and the habits of mind that underwrite them? What conceptually binds an eighteenth century once we have taken up the project of tracking the entanglements of art, commerce, and empire across worlds and vantage points, whether local, regional, or transregional? For whom is the eighteenth century long, and to what ends?

The issue takes off with a series of interventions anchored in discrete episodes, artefacts, and sites. In her investigation of Fischer von Erlach’s often-cited but rarely analyzed first history of world architecture of 1721, Sussan Babaie discerns alternative genealogies and counter-historical trajectories for Islamic and Asian sites at odds with the parameters of colonial and orientalist views that would subsequently shape dominant racialized historical narratives. Andrei Pop offers an analysis of Joshua Reynolds’s portrait of a Black man, claimed to represent Samuel Johnson’s freed Black servant and legatee Francis Barber, as a means for examining the stakes for his provocative assertion that for art historians, the conceptual coherence of “the eighteenth century” is bound up with the period’s connection to Enlightenment ideology. In her account of the British gallows and an attendant visual culture of spectacular punishment in Europe and its plantation colonies, Meredith Gamer unsettles the primacy of the guillotine, long understood to anchor epochal shifts, thereby reframing the long eighteenth century as an era of significant continuity, whose violence, afterlives and legacies still persist today. Turning from land to sea, Maggie Cao centers the maritime media of scrimshaw—whale teeth artifacts incised by sailors, artifacts of and on the sea—to trace the intimately linked course of ecological and imperial histories. In so doing, she explores contact and connection between animals and humans, and between sailors and Indigenous communities, to challenge the geographies and temporalities of periodization. Bart Pushaw’s close reading of woodcuts by the Kalaaleq artist Rasmus Berthelsen opens onto the embodied experience of Poq, the first Inuk to complete the transatlantic colonial circuit between Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland) and Denmark in 1724. Moving between Poq’s initial voyage and Berthelsen’s nineteenth-century representations, Pushaw explores Indigenous epistemologies of time and duration that stand in stark distinction to the colonial construct of linear time that has served as the ground for art historical analysis.

A dialogic exchange on microhistories follows these articles. Here, Chanchal Dadlani and Holly Shaffer, art historians of early modern and eighteenth-century South Asian, Islamic, and British art, probe the potential resonances of the long eighteenth century, and emphasize the variability, mutability, and art historical ramifications of such a concept, even within a single region.

In the time of the making of this issue #12, commitments to decolonize art histories—an always ongoing and incomplete process—were accelerated through new online conversations spanning time zones, institutions, and individuals. Our work to query the long eighteenth century unfolded in Zoom clouds, even as it adhered to a rigorously from-the-ground-up analytic with an eye to the horizon. New paradigms of teaching thus take center stage alongside new research. The culminating distillation by Eleanore Neumann features a lively online roundtable, “Teaching the ‘Long’ Eighteenth Century,” convened in April 2021 and to which participants—­including Anna Arabindan-Kesson, Nebahat Avcıoğlu, Emma Barker, Ananda Cohen-Aponte, Prita Meier, Nancy Um, and Stephen Whiteman—contributed open-access teaching resources. The volatility and disorientation entailed in looking at the habitual through new pedagogical lenses and globalizing curricula surfaced sharply in digital boxes or “clouds” which themselves may have appeared unequal and hazy based on from where and how you connect the dots and data.

As you touch down in this issue, we hope you will find as bracing as we do the myriad ways that our contributors challenge established spatial and temporal mappings, even as they signal the vitality and urgency of their continued explorations of specific local contexts, provincialized materials, and obscured agents. As these interventions suggest, in centering Indigenous temporalities and oceanic perspectives, in scrutinizing who constitutes art’s publics, in probing how taxonomic practices and an ethics of othering persist in art history and museum practices, and how beyond such hallowed halls these projects often meet distinctly violent ends, an exploration of just where the long eighteenth century ends may well land not in 1815, or 1830, but rather in our own time.

Sarah Betzer and Dipti Khera

Cover image: Thomas Baldwin, Detail from A Balloon Prospect from Above the Clouds. Engraving, Plate III, from Airopaidia: Containing the Narrative of a Balloon Excursion (London,1786). Image in the public domain.