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Title: A Communion of Shadows: Vernacular Photography and the Material Archives of Nineteenth-Century American Religion
Authors: Lindsey, Rachel McBride
Advisors: Weisenfeld, Judith
Contributors: Religion Department
Keywords: American religious history
material culture
quotidian practice
religious experience
vernacular photography
Subjects: Religion
American history
Art history
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation is a material culture analysis of vernacular photographic artifacts that were incorporated into the devotional culture of nineteenth-century religious Americans. Rather than focusing exclusively on the visual content of early photographs to determine whether or not they constituted a religious archive, I am attentive to the practices of preservation and display that contributed to circumstances of encounter. In several instances it is a study of religion in photography, but my interests are ultimately much broader than the compositional frame of any given photograph. Theological, devotional, liturgical, and skeptical discourses thus emerge less as compositional directives than as interpretive contexts. Likewise, as a category of analysis rather than a category of collectible, in this dissertation the terminology of the vernacular refers to the photographic artifacts that Americans most commonly encountered through the course of their daily affairs, specifically studio portraiture, memorial photographs, halftone reproductions, stereographs, and, at the end of the century, consumer generated snapshots arranged into albums and scuttled through the mail. This art historical interest in the vernacular is considered alongside recent historiographic interest in the quotidian among historians of American religion, a field which, not incidentally, has also become increasingly committed to material culture analysis. By identifying a historiographic association between lived religion, everyday practices, and material artifacts, this dissertation works to interrogate notions of indexicality freighted in historical analysis. American religionists' converging interest in the quotidian and in material culture, not surprisingly, echoed similar movements in other disciplines, including sociology, history, art history, literature, and area studies. In many respects located at the crossroads of these disciplinary concerns, my dissertation contributes to this broad scholarly interest by providing an attentive consideration of the relationships that historians, especially, posit between material culture, on the one hand, and, on the other, the accessibility of human experiences via the artifacts that inhabited their subjects' tactile worlds. During the nineteenth century, arguably no other cultural medium in the United States was more charged than photography, and no other arena of human life more contested--or more fervently defended--than religion. By placing these two areas of inquiry in deliberate conversation through cultural historical analysis, my dissertation works to provide one place wherein scholars of any number of specializations can begin to think critically about the relationships between material artifacts, photographic representation, and religious experiences.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Religion

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