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Ten Photographs That Shook the World: Visual Technologies of Historical Memory
HIST 130
Spring 2009 not offered
Crosslisting: AMST 130

"Great photographs do not answer our questions. They show us why the questions must be asked ....." When the photographer Matthew Brady urged the federal government to support the creation of a visual record of the American Civil War as a kind of commemorative act, he presented photography as "the eye of history." For Brady, and for others since the dawn of photography, the photograph could seem to provide unproblematic, direct access to historical events, such that the overriding question for them about its use was simply how well the photographer had captured the reality on film. Today, the widespread use of photographs for historical or actual effect, whether in works of history, visual documentation, television, museum displays, or teaching materials, renders this rather unreflective attitude no longer possible. This leads us today to ask new questions about photography and its role in historiography: In what ways can photographs tell us about the past? Do photographs differ in character from other kinds of historical sources? What conventions guide historical observation in photography, and how do they compare to those governing written sources? What role does the intention of photographers play? Why do some pictures, and not others, acquire iconic power and come to represent in condensed fashion a historical moment? This seminar is an introduction to the history and theory of photography from its invention in 1839 to the image-hungry present day. No prior knowledge of history of photography is assumed. The course is organized around the theme of historical memory. We will examine how photographs shape the way that people experience and remember historic events, and we will discuss a variety of different ways of interpreting photographs as historical documents. To analyze the impact that specific images have had in society, discussions will focus on 10 photographs that "shook the world" with their revelations. These images might include, for example, "Iwo Jima "; "Old Glory" (1945); "Children Fleeing a Napalm Strike" (1972); Lewis Hine, "Making Human Junk" (1915); "Migrant Mother" (Dorothea Lange, 1936); the "Moonshot" color photograph (NASA, 1968); photographic portrait of Emmet Till (circa 1955); first "spirit" photograph (William H. Mumler, 1869); Abu Ghraib prison photographs; death picture of Che Guevara (1967); and galloping/trotting horses (Edward Muybridge). Particular attention will be paid to questions of audience and circulation, as well as contexts of production and visual display. The core assignment of the course will be a 15-page individual research paper exploring some aspects of historical interpretation raised by an individual photograph, perhaps selected from the photographic holdings of the Davison Art Center or the archives or microfilm records of photographically illustrated newspapers and magazines in Olin Library.

Essential Capabilities: None
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: SBS HIST
Course Format: DiscussionGrading Mode: Graded
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: None
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: None

Last Updated on MAY-27-2024
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