Picturing the Past

Picturing the Past : Illustrated Histories and the American Imagination 1840-1900

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In the 1840s a revolution began in both book publishing and the presentation of American history. Inexpensive techniques for reproducing visual images in books allowed established artists, who often had no training in history, to present their own patriotic interpretations of historical events. Meanwhile authors - encouraged by publishers eager to expand into the popular market - eventually began to write their texts with these images in mind. This symbiotic relationship and the mass-market acceptance of this dramatic and often melodramatic pictorial genre had an enormous effect on the kind and intensity of history that Americans absorbed. Picturing the Past, an illustrated history of these often maligned illustrated history books, offers a detailed look into the visual culture of the past. Pfitzer finds that these books were directed at not only semiliterate immigrants but also middle-class Americans seeking to reaffirm their patriotism. Not surprisingly, many books contained sentimental and even comic misrepresentations of history, but some authors and illustrators also showed real sparks of genius in the way they condensed the past and made it comprehensible. By the 1890s a new breed of professional historian was expressing deep concern about the 'deverbalization' of culture brought on by illustrated histories. Suspicions about the reliability of visual evidence - including photographs - called into question the relevancy of visual literacy. By 1900 the heyday of the illustrated history book had ended, and that of the monograph, journal article, and professional paper had begun.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 276 pages
  • 185.4 x 240.8 x 27.4mm | 684.94g
  • Smithsonian Books
  • Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press
  • Washington, United States
  • English
  • 1588340848
  • 9781588340849

About Gregory M. Pfitzer

Gregory M. Pfitzer is the author of Samuel Eliot Morison's Historical World: In Quest of a New Parkman (1991). He is an associate professor of American studies at Skidmore College in New York.show more

Table of contents

Chapter 1 Introduction: "I Can Read Pikturs to a D-n" Part 2 I. The Literature of the Unlearned: The Emergence of the Visual, 1840-1861 Chapter 3 1. "An Aid to the Imagination": The Pictorial Mode and the Rise of Illustrated History Chapter 4 2. "Pictures on Memory's Wall": Visual Perspective and the Pictorial Field Books Chapter 5 3. "Vulgar and Strict Historical Truth": Giftbooks, Sentimental History, and the Grand Manner Part 6 II. The Pictorial Turn: Realism and Visual Literacy, 1861-1890 Chapter 7 4. "Eyewitness to History": Challenges to the Sentimental Form Chapter 8 5. "A String for the Pearls": The Centennial Celebration and Humanizing History Part 9 III. The Tyranny of the Pictorial: Challenges to the Visual, 1890-1900 Chapter 10 6. "Colors That Do Not Fade": Chromos and the Professional Attack on Illustrated Histories Chapter 11 7. "The Subjective Eye and the Conventionalizing Hand": Photography and Realism Chapter 12 Epilogue: Endingsshow more

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