An Archaeology of Image Culture
The quarter century before the American Civil War encompassed a radical transformation in the national culture: pictures went from being rare and remarkable to ubiquitous and integral to daily life. Printed images especially became increasingly essential to marketing, political persuasion, the circulation of information, social interaction, and routine amusement. A new image ecology emerged as new print media disrupted traditional hierarchies and as established media adjusted to reconfigured opportunities. This lecture will draw from a book-length study of this transformation to outline a range of watershed events and focus more closely on one or two case studies, including the 1840 presidential election. The campaign of William Henry Harrison marked the first time pictures figured significantly in American presidential politics, and the resemblances to 21st-century practices do not end there.