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Kailani Polzak

Assistant Professor
Art and visual culture in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe; visual constructions of race; material cultures of empire and colonialism; natural history illustration; cartography and hydrography; histories of print production and circulation.
Research Interests: 

Kailani Polzak’s research focuses on European visual culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with particular attention to histories of science, aesthetic philosophy, race, colonialism, and intercultural contact in Oceania. Her current book project, Difference Over Distance: Visualizing Contact between Europe and Oceania, examines the graphic and printed works created in relation to so-called “Voyages of Discovery” conducted by Britain, France, and Russia in Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, and Hawaiʻi in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and traces how these pictures were marshaled in arguments about the origins of human difference in Europe and the United States. She also maintains a methodological interest in the questions raised by writing about and curating colonial histories from multiple perspectives.

Porter D-211
Office Hours: 

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Current Students: See Syllabus for more instructions

Selected Publications: 

“From the Horizon to the Shore: Coastal Contact and Contestation in the Pacific” in Beate Fricke and Lucas Burkart, eds., Shifting Horizons: A Line and Its Movement in Art, History, And Philosophy, Colloquia Raurica 17 (Basel: Schwabe Verlag, 2022). 


Co-authored with Jennifer Chuong, "Contact, and Contact Again: Reflections on an Eighteenth-Century Powder Horn," Response to the Colloquium Question "When and Where Does Colonial America End?" Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art (Fall 2021).


“Making Material Histories: Institutional Memory and Multivocal Interpretation,” in Sierra Rooney, Jennifer Wingate, and Harriet F. Senie eds. Teachable Monuments: Using Public Art to Spark Dialogue & Confront Controversies (London: Bloomsbury, 2021).


Co-authored with Julia Lum, “The Time of Captain Cook: A Conversation,” Journal 18 (April 2020).



Co-curated with Sonnet Coggins, “'The Field is the World': Williams, Hawaiʻi, and Material Histories in the Making.” Williams College Museum of Art (September 1, 2018 -January 2, 2019)

--Reviewed by Christopher Marcisz, “An Exhibition Critically Explores the History of Missionaries in Hawaiʻi,” Hyperallergic, November 21, 2018.


Selected Presentations: 

"Pacific Encounters in Print: Revisiting James Cook Voyage Publications" The Kress Foundation Art of the Book in Europe Lecture, Rare Book School, University of Virginia, 2023


"Contours of Race and Empire: French Ethnographic Drawing in Australia (1800-1804)" in the "Encounter, Race, and Representation" panel at the Society for Global Nineteenth-Century Studies World Congress, 2023. 


“Regarding Kamehameha I: Class, Gender, and Genre in the Portrait(s) by Louis Choris” Invited lecture at the 2023 UC Davis Templeton Colloquium in Art History focused on “Pacific Encounters”, Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, 2023


"Mobile Images, Traveling Meanings, and the Ipu Makani o Laʻamaomao," at "Object Mobilities" interdisciplinary workshop, Australia National University, 2022


"Fixing Space and Figuring Place: Engraved Episodes from the Voyages of James Cook," Keynote at The 57th Annual UCLA Art History Graduate Symposium, Hammer Museum, 2022


"The Pacific Gothic of Charles Meryon," invited lecture at the Jepson Center, Telfair Museums, 2022


"Art and Empires: New World Views," invited presentation and conversation with Zirwat Chowdhury, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University, 2022


"Sightings and Landings: Captain Cook and Coastal Contestation in Aotearoa and Hawaiʻi," invited lecture in the New Directions in Art History Lecture Series, Department of Art and Architecture, Harvard University, 2021


“Rising from the Ocean: Perspectives of Land and Watercraft during Cook’s Third Voyage” at “Viewing Topography Across the Globe Series: Workshop II: Indigeneity,” Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University, 2021


“The Question of Complexion in Aotearoa during Captain Cook's First Voyage,” invited lecture in the “Race/Art History” Speaker Series, Art History Program, Wesleyan University, 2020


“Ethical Approaches to the Humanities: An Art Historian's Perspective,” Invited talk at the Jones Program in Ethics, Emory University, 2020


“Judge Magazine and Racial Caricature,” at Reimagining the Museum - "Difficult" Objects, Early Modern Studies Institute, University of Southern California, 2020. 


“Race, Universalism, and the Beau Idéal,” Kenyon College, 2020


 “Making Material Histories: Polyvocal Interpretation and Institutional Collections,” at Art and Decolonization public seminar convened by MASP and Afterall, Museu De Arte De São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand, 2019


“From the Horizon to the Shore: Coastal Contact and Contestation in the Pacific,” at Horizonte – eine Linie und ihre Bewegung in Kunst,Geschichte und Literatur Colloquium Rauricum XVII, 2019


“Making Room for Dialogue in Global Histories of Art,” at the Andrew W. Mellon Writing Global Histories of Art Workshop, Clark Art Institute, 2018


“A Civilized Nature: Picturing Australia and Aboriginal Australians on the Baudin Expedition (1800-04),” at Race and Representation: Nineteenth-Century Case Studies Composed Session, College Art Association Annual Conference, 2017


“Varieties of Inscription: Sydney Parkinson and the Māori Moko,” at Difference/Distance: Picturing Race Across Oceans in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, University of California, Berkeley, 2016 


“Face, Plate, Paper, and the Problem of Engraving Race,” at the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Annual Meeting, 2015


“Spain, France, Moor, and Mameluke: Visual and Ideological Confusion in Goya’s Second of May 1808,” at Eyes on Protest: Contestation and Visuality, University of British Columbia, 2013

Honors and Awards: 

Excellence in Teaching Award, UCSC, 2023

Getty/ACLS (American Council of Learned Societies) Postdoctoral Fellowship in the History of Art 2022-2023

Association of Print Scholars Collaboration Grant, 2020 [Co-awarded with Jennifer Chuong for our 2022 colloquium, Imprinting Race

Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography Fellowship, 2018-2020

C3 Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship, Williams College, 2016-2018

Social Science Research Council Mellon International Dissertation Research Fellowship, 2013

Georges Lurcy Fellowship for Dissertation Research in France, 2013

Education and Training: 
Ph.D., History of Art, University of California, Berkeley
B.A., History of Art and Visual Culture, University of California, Santa Cruz