Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Duncan Faherty

Committee Members

Kandice Chuh

Herman Bennett

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature | History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies


Long Eighteenth Century, Circum-Atlantic Literatures and Cultures, Aesthetics, Science Studies, Colonial Americas


Chromatic Dissensus: An Otherwise Archive of Natural Dyes, 1750-1856 works from the premise that the absences regarding subaltern life structuring the colonial archive are an epistemological problem—that is, navigating the colonial archive requires an interrogation of the parameters and practices of knowledge formation. Building from recent scholarship in early American studies which details how eighteenth-century colonial knowledge developed out of an epistemic entanglement between British colonists, diasporic Africans, and indigenous Americans, my dissertation queries the overdetermination of colonial knowledge and subsequent occlusion of alternative parameters for knowing. Enlisting aesthetics, in its broad definition as the theorization of sense making, my dissertation analyzes an Anglophone archive regarding the production and circulation of natural dyes as a method to read against the ostensible supremacy of colonial knowledge. Through such an analysis, I argue colonial knowledge formation was guided by grammars of taxonomical distinction and separation and gesture towards alternative practices for knowing and sensing the world.

This dissertation locates itself in the nexus of aesthetics and epistemology to explore the interrelation between the production of colonial knowledge and the materials and practices through which colonists sensed and made sense of the world. In examining the construction of a colonial sensus communis, my dissertation interrogates what could and could not be perceived according to the logics guiding colonial common sense. By closely reading a range of texts regarding the circulation and production of natural dyes, including natural histories, travel narratives, instructional pamphlets, scientific experiments, poetry, as well as attending to the material artifacts created using these dyes, my research elucidates the grammars organizing the colonial sensus communis. Motivated the aesthetic theory of Jacques Ranciére, my reading practices look for dissensus in the colonial archive in order to identify possibilities for sense making which were rendered unrecognizable under the parameters of liberal “common sense.” Ultimately, my project works from the epistemological and aesthetic contestation inherent to the time and space of my archive in order to read beyond an overdetermination of Western subjectivity, and instead investigates ways of knowing that eschewed what Sylvia Wynter calls the “descriptive statements” of liberal humanism.

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