University of Rochester
2014 to 2015
Lives of the Copyists: Replicating Subjects in Antebellum American Print Culture 1820-1860
This dissertation probes the under-theorized pre-history of the mass-culture portrait image in the United States. Rejecting the notion that photography instantly inaugurated the phenomenon of the cheap, reproducible representation of the individual, my project draws on inter-disciplinary studies to explore the ways repeatable and mobile images of individuals circulated and thrived in advance of and alongside early photography. Cases include the emergence of the literary sketch and its relationship with the visual arts, “autographomania,” interest in the signature or “lexical index” of the individual, the lithographic portrait empire of Philadelphia artist-craftsman Albert Newsam, and Thomas Lorrain McKenney’s translation of his vast portrait gallery into the monumental print portfolio, History of the Indian Tribes of North America. In each instance I argue that the actions of replicating the subject subtly alter relationships between those seeing and those being seen.