Undergraduate Seminar: Reading Photographs of the American West, 1850-1920
This seminar will focus on three intertwined issues: photography in the American West, the ways in which these photographs were disseminated, and how these images defined and visualized the West for the rest of the country. Defining “the West” was a lively occupation in the nineteenth century, and photographers and artists were active participants in the ongoing conversation. Western views were not uninflected: they were seen as stereos in the mass market, as part of government surveys and ethnographic reports, in the promotional literature of railroads, agriculture, and mining corporations, and as art objects on the walls of local and national art exhibitions and fairs. We will concentrate primarily on images by Carleton Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge, Timothy O’Sullivan, Alexander Gardner, William Henry Jackson, Jack Hillers, and Edward Curtis, with attention to their patrons, directives, and the publication history of the images. When possible, we will view original photographs and photographically-illustrated books in the Bancroft Library. By the end of the course, students should have a nuanced understanding of the narrative and discursive power—and limitations—of photographs and their role in shaping and understanding history.
Students will ideally have some background in the history of photography and/or history of the American West.
This course fulfills the following Major requirements: Geographical area (C) and Chronological period (III).