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Kaeun Park 

University of Michigan, USA

World in Pictures: Anna Caulfield McKnight’s Lantern Slide Lectures in Early 20th-Century America

Anna Caulfield Collection
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This paper centers around Anna Caulfield McKnight’s glass lantern slides and her art history lectures in early twentieth century U.S. Born in 1873 in Michigan, she studied art history in the U.S. as well as Europe. While studying art history, she made over 2,800 lantern slides of artworks, architecture, and landscapes she saw or learned about. From the late 1890s, she gave public art history lectures in many prominent institutions such as the Louvre Museum in Paris and the Congressional Clubs in Washington D.C, using the lantern slides as key lecture materials.

Far from regarding the slides as a mere tool for her lectures, this paper seeks to investigate the further implications of them in the historical context of early twentieth century America. What was at stake when McKnight’s lantern slides were produced, circulated, and shown in the country? What was the materiality of lantern slides and what type of subjectivity was made through her art history lectures? I argue that the lantern slides were a set of machinery that subjectified American audiences as a group of coherent, cultured citizens during the early 20th century, when identifying the cultural lineage of the country was urgent. I also attempt to locate the slides within academic discourses of American art history. McKnight’s lantern slides, having various artistic and technological qualities, I argue, could complicate the existing scholarship of art and visual culture in early twentieth century America.

The Caulfield McKnight Collection, currently owned by the University of Michigan, has not gained enough visibility in the scholarship of American photography. I hope this paper might provide a critical space through which we could discuss technological and artistic aspects of lantern slides as well as the importance of women in the early history of photography.

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