Dr Amy Matthewson

Selected Talks

I enjoy public speaking and have given talks to both an academic and non-academic audience. My talks tend to centre around my research interests regarding the construction and representation of race through visual and material cultures. The following is a selection of past talks.  
Beyond the Cartoon:
Politics, Art, and Chinoiserie in ‘Punch’ Magazine in the Late Nineteenth Century
November 2020 online at New Direction in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Art Seminar
This paper explores the relationship between images and the power of association by investigating symbols of ‘Chineseness’ in the British satirical magazine Punch during the late nineteenth century.  The series of cartoons lampooning the New Aesthetic Movement and its participants have generated much interest and have therefore already been subjects of critical analysis.  This paper revisits this series but explores these cartoons within a geopolitical framework of understanding.  By applying Roland Barthes’ theory in Rhetoric of the Image, the satirical images provide interesting insight into the relationship between art, ideas, politics, and power.  The aim is to consider associations of China and ‘Chineseness’ that move beyond the cartoon to reveal subtle insight into broader ideologies of Empire and race relations.
Event programme here.
Monsoon:
the Storm within Diaspora Identities
November 2020 online at Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance
Co-presented with Yen Ooi,
Royal Holloway, University of London
This presentation discusses the (dis)connect between language and identity, and the sense of belonging using Hong Khaou’s film Monsoon as a case study. The film presents a thought-provoking portrayal of the ways in which diaspora communities negotiate their identities through displacement, and language plays an important role in providing a sense of belonging and establishing networks. It is known that when multilinguals and translinguals switch languages, they become someone else with different emotional journeys. So, what happens when a person fails to communicate in their original ‘mother-tongue’, when they’re unable to switch languages? How do others judge language competency based on a person’s physiognomy? And how many times can a person negotiate and re-negotiate a sense of self within changing relationships through time and geographical location? By taking a closer look at Monsoon’s protagonist Kit who left Vietnam as a child to seek asylum in the UK and returns to Vietnam as an adult, only to bring his parents’ ashes ‘home’, we will explore issues of social dislocation, language barriers, as well as the complexities of identity and belonging through his journey.
More information here.
Event programme 
here.
Disguised Flesh:
The Marvellously Mysterious Magician Chung Ling Soo, A Case Study
March 2020 at The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret, London, United Kingdom
On the 23rd of March 1918, the most famous magician of the era, Chung Ling Soo, was performing to a sold-out audience at the Wood Green Empire. Little did the crowd know that this would be his last performance. Soo’s notoriously dangerous bullet trick failed and resulted in his dramatic death on stage. This shocking end revealed Soo’s greatest trick: that he was not Chinese at all. Chung Ling Soo was an American named William Ellsworth Robinson who, upon his arrival in Britain, reinvented himself as a Chinese conjurer. This talk will take a closer look at Robinson and how he changed his flesh – his race, in order to put on a performance that extended beyond the stage and into his personal life. By focusing on Robinson as a case study, the talk will explore the broader rules of representation and what constitutes truth as well as the strength of cultural and ideological presuppositions that shape our understanding.
Event programme here.
A shorter presentation was made for Music Hall Wednesdays as part of the Lambeth Heritage Festival 2020. More information here.
Imperialism, Ideology, Iconography:
The Mercantile Bank of India's China Banknotes from the Republican Period
May 2019 at The British Museum, London, United Kingdom
The history of money is not only significant in its economic signs of value, its iconographies reveal cultural identities and political (dis)unities. Previous scholarship on designs and imageries of banknotes tends to frame analysis within the discourse of nationalism and collective identity. By focusing on the China banknotes that were issued by The Mercantile Bank of India (MBI) during the Republican era, this paper moves beyond these theoretical frameworks. The images on the MBI China banknotes, which were created in London, reveal foreign interests as well as British understanding and interpretations of China. By situating these banknotes within their historical framework, this paper explores alternate meanings of iconography on banknotes by considering dynamics of power, ideology, and territorial affiliations through Empire.
Programme and abstracts here.
The Bank of Hell:
Spirit Money and the Afterlife
April 2019 at The Museum of East Asian Art, Bath, United Kingdom
Tomb Sweeping Day is a traditional Chinese festival to commemorate ancestors. People show respect to their ancestors by visiting their graves, offering food, tea or wine, burning incense and offering ‘joss paper’ representing money. They pray before their ancestors’ graves and ask for blessings on their families. This is also a time to start enjoying the greenery of spring. People treat this day as a family outing day, and one of the most popular activities is kite flying. ‘Spirit Money’, also known as ‘Hell Money,’ is currency printed to resemble legal tender but burned as offerings to deceased loved ones to ensure comfort in their lives after death. This talk will explore the meanings of this type of money and provide some explanation into this colourful and complicated world of currency in the afterlife.
Event programme here.
Open House at the Royal Asiatic Society:
Glass Lantern Slides of China

March 2019 at the Royal Asiatic Society Collections Open Evening, London, United Kingdom

This talk explores the wonderful collection of glass lantern slides of China that reside deep in the bowels of the Royal Asiatic Society. I begin by contextualising the objects and briefly discuss the history of lantern slides before moving on to the ways in which I engaged with the collection at the Royal Asiatic Society. In my attempt to understand the significance of these glass slides, I approached them in two ways: the first, through materiality, the objects themselves and their social interactions. The second, through representation, how to read the images as well as understanding the meaning behind the image.
More information on the Royal Asiatic Society Collections Open Evening here.
Politics of Art:
Chinoiserie and Japonism in 'Punch' Magazine
February 2019, Global Victorians Conference, University of Warwick, United Kingdom
During the height of the New Aesthetic Movement in Britain, the popular satirical magazine Punch created a series of visual social commentaries lampooning the fad for Chinese and Japanese art. The cartoons appear to be jocular jabs at the Aesthetics; however, these images had deeper implications and provide insight into Britain’s engagement with both China and Japan. This paper intends to explore how Punch used its series of cartoons to comment on British society and politics through symbols of ‘Chineseness’ and ‘Japaneseness’. While the target of the magazine’s satirical attacks were the British, the ways in which Punch used the arts of China and Japan differed. Images incorporating chinoiserie held negative connotations that coincided with the tumultuous Sino-British relations of the time, whereas cartoons poking fun of japonism retained a light-hearted tone. This paper argues that contrary to the deceptively playful appearance of Punch cartoons, the images were powerful tools in circulating and cementing particular notions and ideas of China and Japan in the Victorian imagination.
Conference programme here.
Cartooning Suffrage:
Visual Representations of Women and the Vote in 'Punch', c. 1905-1919

5 October 2018 at University of Oxford, U.K.

26 October 2018 at the LSE, U.K.
Co-presented with Dr. Flore Janssen, Birkbeck, University of London

In the spring of 2018, to mark the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, we collaborated to create an exhibition of political cartoons representing women and the vote. The exhibition, entitled ‘Deeds not Words: Who Got the Vote in 1918?’ showcased a series of cartoons that appeared in the popular and influential satirical magazine Punch from the commencement of militant campaigning until the granting of the vote and women’s first participation in a general election in 1918. Versions of our exhibition have been displayed at the Cartoon Museum in London, the Wolfson Gallery at SOAS Library, and as part of a wider exhibition on women’s suffrage at the Camden Local Studies and Archive Centre. This paper presents the methods and materials we used to create the exhibition, and explores the challenges of representing visual ambiguities and shades of opinion to a broad and diverse audience. 
University of Oxford conference programme here.
Comparative Yellow Perilisms:
Imagination, Reaction, and Continuation
March 2018 at the Association for Asian Studies Conference,Washington,United States
This paper examines the changing perception of China and Japan during the First Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895 as reported textually and visually in Punch Magazine. The Sino-Japanese War arose from a conflict between China and Japan over supremacy in Korea. It was a brief but decisive war in which the consequences were paramount in shifting the balance of world power. China’s weakness was revealed and Japan emerged as a new imperial player on the international arena. Punch reported on events as they unfolded with wit and satire and importantly,  provided readers with plenty of humorous visuals in caricaturising both nations. In this talk, I approach the magazine as a site where opinions and attitudes were both formed and reflected and examine how Punch contributed to the circulation, dissemination, and maintenance of stereotypes in the visual and textual systems of understanding that was prevalent at the time.
Mr. Punch and Chinamania:
Blue Willow China and Consumer Consumption in 'Punch' Magazine, 1874-1880

February 2018 at the Royal Asiatic Society, London, United Kingdom

The late nineteenth century craze for Chinese or Chinese inspired ceramics by participants of the New Aesthetic Movement caught the attention of the popular British magazine, Punch and in particular, the Punch artist George Du Maurier. Du Maurier became the most outspoken critic of the Movement and depicted the Aesthetics’ love of Chinese ceramics as a self-indulging and degenerate pursuit. He coined the term ‘Chinamania’ to express the craze of china collecting and the images he created portray collectors as selfish and indulgent. This paper will take a closer look at the series of cartoons depicting this desire for chinoiserie by contextualising the images within their broader socio-political frameworks of understanding.
Listen to the recorded talk here.