Saturday, January 3, 2015


Welcome to the blog for our Spring 2015 graduate seminar. The field of visual culture has been a rapidly expanding one, growing with our awareness of the complexities of human production and perception of images, and their relationship to cultural norms and notions of identity, nation, gender, and place. The history of our mass media goes back, it turns out, long before the invention of television or film, and is tied up in the earliest productions of theatrical and artistic spectacle.

We'll start with the Victorian era, in both Britain and the United States, a period in which visual culture began to take on its modern form. Beginning with the 'virtual realities' of panoramas, moving panoramas, dioramas, and optical toys, we began to educate the eye, as well as to deceive it. Victorian technologies of sight next brought to the public an incremental series of wonders, beginning with the invention of photography in 1839, and progressing through the mass-production of prints, glass lantern slides, stereoviews, and illusory motion -- as with the phenakistoscope disc shown above: when it spun, before a mirror, the figures seemed to move, a form of animation that preceeded cinematic cartoons by more than fifty years. We'll look at some of these ourselves, and use our own digital technology to see and reconstruct other pre-cinematic media. Our journey will continue through the birth of motion pictures, and the invention of television, both of which -- I suspect -- you'll find were invented much earlier than you'd imagined. Along the way, we'll read short critical texts by historians of mass media and visual technology, and work to understand how our ways of seeing have, over time, become ways of believing.

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