Back in March (2021) Texas Monthly published a feature article about John R. Erickson, the creator and ongoing author of Hank the Cowdog. Almost any schoolkid can tell you that Hank is the head of ranch security and Drover has a pain in his leg. But there is more to Hank’s (and Erickson’s) story. Much more.Continue reading Scratch the Head of Ranch Security
My grandmother used to say “Nobody likes to do laundry, but everybody likes clean clothes.” I remember helping her wash and hang laundry when I stayed with them. These are just two reasons I loved Patric Richardson’s book Laundry Love (written with Karin B. Miller).Continue reading Live and Let Dry
“The legendary explorer of the Titanic shares inside stories of danger, suspense, and discovery–plus previously untold stories about his own dyslexia and how it has shaped his life.
Best known for finding the doomed ship Titanic, celebrated adventurer Robert Ballard has a lifetime of stories about exploring the ocean depths. Now he gets personal, telling the stories behind his most exciting discoveries―including how a top-secret naval mission provided the opportunity for his Titanic discovery―and opens up about his private tragedies.
He frankly recounts the struggles he has worked through, rising to prominence as a scientist whose celebrity drew academic scorn. And he reveals the triumph and agony in the years after his Titanic find: While media around the world clamored for interviews, he grappled with the death of his 20-year-old son and the collapse of his marriage amid academic and military career demands. Finally, he addresses his late-in-life discovery of his own dyslexia, which he now sees as a gift that has shaped his life and accomplishments.
Twice a New York Times best-selling author, here Ballard partners with investigative reporter and bestselling author Christopher Drew to tell the dramatic and often surprising stories behind his newsworthy discoveries. Timed to appear as the National Geographic Channel airs a special documentary about Ballard’s explorations, Into the Deep will intrigue adventure lovers young and old.
Brilliant, insightful, and surprising, Into the Deep is the definitive story of the dangers and discoveries, conflicts and triumphs that have shaped the remarkable life of an American hero.”
Sherlock Homes – The Exhibition recently opened at the Science Museum Oklahoma. A few days before the public opening I was invited to a pre-opening event and got to run through the exhibit with an exhibits colleague from the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History. It’s a wonderful little exhibit with an added interactive component that puts a notebook in guests’ hands and puts them on the case. You then move through the exhibit learning about botany, ballistics, blood-spatter, and even things that aren’t alliterative.
Do they give awards for trailer editing? This one was done really well, it revealed nothing, didn’t give all the best parts, and even kept some things unknown. At least the first one did, I didn’t see the official second trailer until I was putting together media for this post.
I finally tracked down my last missing Prehistoric Zoobooks, but have not had the time to put them in a proper post, it is still on the list though. I am working more on my dissertation at the moment and with a new routine at home due to the arrival of my son at the end of June things are a bit up in the air with anything that isn’t deadline/need-based driven. To that end though here is something that I am retrofitting for a full post that was done in a series on Facebook. It was one of those “10_____ that influenced (or some other verb) me” chain tags that go around from time to time. I usually ignore them, but this one came an a time of reflection on my own habits and what I was writing about early American readership so I decided to take something flippant and approach it in a way I could use it for a blog post. In fact, for people starting out blogging or online journaling these types of lists may provide a nice ease into the pool.
If you have been following along, you will recognize the crescendo of this Shead story has taken over my posts and summer research. It is hard to think of anything else I could add to what I’ve discovered so far save just adding to his already herculean numbers of completed pieces of art. Following the magazine covers that were part of his enormous portfolio and utilizing the interlibrary loan services at my library I secured a few copies of the Specialty Salesman Magazine.
This will be my shortest post: I’m done.
To wrap this list up there are several books which were recalled that I read several weeks ago and am working from my notes on for this. That being said, there wasn’t anything new in any of these books that wasn’t in some of the earlier reads/posts. That doesn’t mean they aren’t interesting or useful, they just add more content to the footnotes when you defer you opinions to someone else work. I will look specifically at a few of them, but will include the rest in the list/images just for completion’s sake.
It would probably be best to track through the ones least used here, but likely to make an appearance in my dissertation, or at very least my prospectus which I will get to working on soon. Edward Wallace’s The Great Reconnaissance: Soldiers, Artists, and Scientists on the Frontier 1848-1861 looks at a sliver of time when there was much traveling and reporting back from the American West. Interestingly enough this sliver doesn’t cover much in the way of the miles covered before 48 and after 61. It is a great book, but like many on the same topics, it needs updated and contextualized. It does provide an excellent paper trail for journals and reports to follow.
Ann Shelby Blum’s Picturing Nature: America Nineteenth-Century Zoological Illustration is a gorgeous book. Filled with color images from some of the most important works in Natural History. Blum focuses on scientific representation outside of the main thoroughfare of historical enquiry and anyone wanting to know more about people who aren’t Audubon. She also puts Audubon in a natural history (and thus science) perspective. Considering the history of natural history as the history of science should not be that revolutionary, but here we are.
The collected Art and Science in America: Issues of Representation, edited by Ann Meyers, is a collection of papers from a Symposium that was focused on the Huntington’s collection and how two-dimensional images can provide primary source material for understanding the early decades of the 19th century. The book was published in 1998 and was reviewed as part of the “rebirth” of studies in historical natural history.
Wendy Bellion’s Citizen Spectator: Art, Illustration and Visual Perception in Early America is a great collection of early American art styles and art cultures. It would be an excellent book if it was more readable. It reads like a dissertation (and it very well could be) but it will likely fall flat on more readers than those who appreciate it. The book distills down to the fact that spectators (active lookers–“participants” in art) were making decisions about and utilizing their own positions within the republican value system that was the early American experience. Participating in these exhibits, art illusions and allusions were what shaped the citizenry, hence “Citizen Spectator.”
Mapping the Nation: History and Cartography in Nineteenth-Century America by Susan Shulten is a fascinating exploration into the history of cartography not from the technological side as much from the cultural side of how thinking with and about maps has changed. The changed was sculpted and molded through active history making. This is perhaps one of the best representations of how scientific visualization has changed and the power that such imagery possesses. Tying this back into Bellion’s theories on spectatorship as a means of reinforcing citizenry and you can start to see just how powerful images can be. Maps may fall under a different context than the wildlife imagery in Blum’s Picturing Nature but they are all politicized in their own ways and are important to consider as products of scholarship and not merely visual aids. Incidentally, you can look at all of Schulten’s maps (and visual aids) at MappingtheNation.com
That idea of visual aid as science comes into play well in Barbara Novak’s Nature and Culture: American Landscape Painting, 1825-1875. The idea of scientific representation within government reports might not seem revolutionary at first thought, but where Novak succeeds is providing the general context for the artists–specifically landscape artists– on the government expeditions. There is much more to this book, and it should be paired with Rebecca Bedell’s The Anatomy of Nature: Geology and American Landscape Painting , 1825-1875 for best results (including forgetting which one you read what in).
The landscape was the “New” World’s answer to the Old World’s man made monuments. As technological advances brought photography into the government reports artists were still needed to provide the colors to go with the matching black and white photographs. Both in this sense were visualizations to accompany official reports. They were science, not art. Just like the charts or graphs, photographs and landscapes were supposed to present hard facts and data. Artists even complained that realism was science and not art.
Kenneth Haltman’s Looking Close and Seeing Far: Samuel Seymour, Titian Ramsey Peale, and the Art of the Long Expedition follows the first American expedition with “trained civilians” that is artist on payroll. Lewis and Clark suffered from the lack of artists and the government was not going to repeat that mistake. Titian had watched his father sketch many of the Lewis and Clark specimens as they were deposited in Peale’s museum. While Seymour’s works are rare and Peale’s Long Expedition art is scattered to the four winds Haltman works to provide an account of the first American “artistic” enterprise. This also serves as a good introduction to my own work, with Lewis and Clark and Long setting the stage for the U.S. Exploring Expedition, on which Titian was artist and naturalist, just as with the long expedition, but was a naval expedition. Titian provides the best way to understand the differences in naval and army expeditions in the antebellum period. The one thing that Art historians like Haltman and Flores haven’t touched on, but provided an excellent template to work with is that natural history representations are science. Looking at this expeditions and representations as the history of American science in broad terms (more specifically geology and natural history) is sorely lacking from any of the books I have read on this mammoth list. The idea that Titian’s first sketch of the scissor-tail flycatcher is important for art is only half the story. The collections, sketches, and preserved specimens are history of science. You would think this would be low hanging fruit. Then again, maybe it means that my work will not be in vain, lost, or ignored. We will see. I will have to post my wrap up thoughts for this project and the whole year in a few days, exams will be scheduled in the spring and I have some ideas on formulaic academic writing, writing for the academy, and the cost of such works that I will post after I pass exams. Thank you for coming along on this mad road trip and I hope that if you are preparing for your own exams you find some of this madness comforting towards your own work, if you are here for morbid curiosity I hope it was satiated.
It’s Christmas Eve, so what better time to post my Road to Comps Eve post. One more set of readings and I will have completed the entire list AND 2016. I hope to make my final post next week too.
These last couple of sections are bits and pieces of larger works and many of the points have been made in previous posts (and previous books) but they serve as having another place to return to pull information in order to make the points in my dissertation (this isn’t entirely for tangential exams to prove I can stay on a task for an extended period of time).
William Truettner’s (editor) The West as America: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820-1920 was something I had seen in class before. It serves as a textbook for image use in promoting the west to settlers and to modern museum visitors. Interestingly enough the book was published in 1991 to accompany the contentious art exhibit.
The following year William Cronon edited a volume entitled Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America’s Western Past (see a trend here?). Martha Sandweiss’s contribution predated her book Print the Legend by a decade, but many of the points she made about photoraphy are relevant to art as well, as I argued in the previous post. In short, art should be considered as primary source material within its cultural context and it should not be taken at face value.
Robert Cushing Aiken’s “Painting of Manifest Destiny: Mapping the Nation” appeared in American Art Vol 14 (Autumn, 2000 pp 78-89). and collects several of the key art pieces used to represent the American tenet of full continental settlement.
Claire Perry’s essay “Cornucopia of the World,” (Pacific Arcadia: Images of California, 1600-1915) highlights the trouble western promoters faced when the gold ran out of them thar’ hills. The focus shifted from mineral to agricultural wealth. This was not an easy 1:1 substitution as the arid areas of California couldn’t be farmed in any way remotely resembling farming practices in the east (or even the midwest). Interestingly enough, this preambles the turn of the century tourist boosterism that came as Americans became more autonomously mobile.
Barbara Novak’s American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience is in it’s third edition (1980, 1995, 2007) which shows that understanding American art in its own context isn’t a simple project. The strength of Novak’s work is intensified when you can look at it in tandem with the David Reynolds work on 19th century American Cultural History. Novak provides the in depth artistic analysis and Reynolds provides the larger background to help frame it.
Stephan Oetterman published an enormous treatise on the art of the panorama. The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium is a fascinating look at a (literally) huge pieces of American art. To understanding the draw and experience of the moving panorama you can see this previous post. Oetterman’s research indicates that far from the generally accepted idea the the panorama was based on ancient ideas (or ideals) is erroneous and it was in fact patented in the late 18th century. Part of the draw for this type of artwork, stage or no, was increased with the western landscapes and light plays that were highlighted in the few other gallery books included on this list. he even points out that movies in the mid 20th century were produced in cinescope which mean that it took three projectors and three screens to capture it grandeur of the west.
Beautiful books that provide extensive examples of their respected topics are
Linda S. Ferber The Hudson River School: Nature and the American West
John Wilmerding (ed) American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850-1875.
Andrew Wilton, American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States 1820-1880
This final piece repeated a lot of what I have already written about the expeditions west, but there was something extremely interesting in how this book had been used.
John Rennie Shorts’ “Mapping the National Territory” chapter in Representing the Republic: Mapping the United States 1600-1900 was heavily annotated by someone who used it before I did, but only in some interesting places. Actually what was most interesting was where there weren’t any annotations.
As long as the book was recapitulating the same stories on the expansion and expeditions by the government the previous patron filled the pages with notes. Once the book started talking about the geological surveys: nothing. Well, almost nothing, there were two sets of brackets. Even as the book stated that little attention was paid to scientific surveys–even though they made up 80% of all the surveys were scientific in nature (mostly geological).
All this leads me to believe that my dissertation topic is not only interesting but might actually end up being useful to a couple of fields. One more section and a few more books and I have completed this part of the journey, the next post will likely be short like this one since the remaining texts are larger works as well with only portions aimed at my topic and it is hard to review/synthesize a textbook outside of its content’s context which has most definitely been carried on in previous posts. I think these last dozen books or so are just the mopping up portions in order to hammer home some of the larger points and make sure I have been paying attention all this time. If any of this stuff was new and revolutionary at this stage I would most likely be extremely worried about my progress and exams.
I have found it odd that the case has to be made to study photography and art as source material and not merely “visual aids.” The only think that is even more odd is that this case is relatively recent.
The four books and one article in this little operating section tend to all say the same thing–photographs are important not because they are photographs, and not even because the subjects of the photographs, but because they represent a distinct moment in time of an ever-changing culture. The contextual culture of regional and temporal data are frozen in time just as the faces of early portraits. Each work provides its own examples of why this is an important shift in thinking about images. As Martha Sandweiss points out in Print the Legend sometimes what isn’t photographed or what was photographed and then lost can reveal as much (if not more) about a certain moment in the past. Sandweiss provides a solid foundation that scholars should use in reassessing their relationships with photographs. I believe this improved methodology will also easily cover other visual culture as well. Print the Legend could easily be a history of technology work as it follows the exponential developments of photography across two generations (her investigation ends in the 1890s) which happens to parallel the development of America’s mythos regarding their newly acquired and explored territories. For my purposes, she provides the best answer for why, after a MA in American History I have shifted over to work with the Art Historians for my dissertation:
“A lingering bias in historical training teaches would-be historians to value the literary over the visual or material, and teaches them how to query, challenge, and interpret literary documents, while leaving them few analytical skills for the interpretation of visual records”
While looking back through some of the little work I have done with photography (only really starting in 2014) I did find a C-SPAN video of this very book, and it is worth the time you can devote to it:
A funny aside is that you can purchase this as a DVD or an MP3. The latter of which you can listen to Sandweiss describe the photographs, which leads one to believe they missed the point.
Alan Trachtenberg’s Reading American Photographs: Images as History, Matthew Brady to Walker Evens is one of the earliest books (1990) to call for a shift in the understanding of photographs. It is one of those books that requires complete attention and an appropriate amount of pyschological working up to undertake. It is dense.
Not in a bad way, but at times the theoretical asides (which I am certain Trachtenberg does not see as asides) get in the way of the point he wishes to drive home. My first run in with Trachtenberg was his first book about the Brooklyn Bridge. While reading this I went back and thumbed through some things in it on a hunch. Photographs does continue Trachtenberg’s thread of America as imagination. In fact in 1965 he called it “An America of the imagination.” In addition to starting the stone rolling on photography reassessment in history, Trachtenberg offers a short sentence that I am certain will come up for expansion in my future work:
“Thus O’Sullivan placed the survey camera among the instruments of practical science, allowing the history and meaning of the Western surveys (the conjunction of “pure” science and imperial economic enterprise) to reveal their contradictions” (289)
The remaining books in this section could be considered “popular” books each focusing on a single photographer as they managed to work their way through the new continental nation and new technologies in order to make names for themselves as photographers.
In Meaningful Places: Landscape Photographers in the Nineteenth Century American West, Rachel McLean Sailer highlights that print making and mythmaking went hand in hand. Few of the landscapes are void of human life or activity, to the contrary many settlers used photographs of themselves in their new spaces as vindication for the success and progress of American culture. Photographs provided constant reassurance that people were indeed where they belonged. A sense of place for people who had left their cities or even countries in the case of foreign born immigrants was something that most settlers struggled to maintain, but photography, according to Sailer was instrumental in calming some of those unspoken fears.
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis is another notch on Timothy Egan’s literary gun. I have personally read two other of his works: The Worst Hard Time and The Big Burn. Egan doesn’t write books you can glean which is one of the reasons I enjoy assigning them. The book itself follows the drama of Curtis’ life as he moved across the West capturing moments that were fading away. The story of forgotten photographs rediscovered are as much the legend as Curtis’ “quixotic” quest to capture native life. Which I think is captured better in this variant cover:
The renaissance of his work in the 1970s installed Curtis at the forefront of historical photography. Even as historians in the 80s attacked his work for being staged or “playing dress up.” Egan points out that Curtis heard these attacks during his life, and never denied it. His defense provides insight into his work and the importance of photography in the late 19th century: he wanted to represent the past, not document the present of the future. His time in Oklahoma in the 1920s saw many of the natives already fully remodeled into Euro-American culture and his pace in his “race against time” hastened. For Curtis himself, the 2001 documentary Coming to Light is an excellent way to start. I apologize for the ads in the linked video but it was the only site that had the full program to share. Here is a snippet. You can see the whole thing here.
Curtis was involved in the Harriman Expedition in 1899 which, at this planning stage, will be the final expedition in my dissertation. Curtis also employed the new technology of moving pictures after the turn of the century, which ties back into the final book of Eadward Muybridge.
As with Sandweiss and others, the nature of photography in the American West also serves as a history of technology. Nowhere in these readings (maybe even more broadly) is that more evident than in Rebecca Solnit’s River of Shadows: Eadward Muybridge and teh the Technological Wild West. In fact, Muybridge’s life can be seen as a parallel with both the arc of the West and the rise of photography. He “invented” himself in western culture, photographed through the landscapes as did his contemporaries, and then made studies with the movement displayed in still photographs. His moving pictures were the legacy his family life never produced. Solnit describes Muybridge as a man who “split the second,” which had “as dramatic and far reaching [effect] as splitting the atom” (7). One reviewer did not care for this phrasing, but given the circumstances and the tenor of the book (and Muybridge’s life) I think it fits.
The final piece was an article in the Art Bulletin in December 2003 highlighting Timothy O’Sullivan as a survey photographer. Trachtenberg mentioned O’Sullivan in the quote above as the person who brought photography into the came of scientific instruments. Robin E. Kelsey’s article “Viewing the Archive: Timothy O’Sullivan’s Photographs for the Wheeler Survey, 1871-74” look at the photographs as a new form of graphic representation. That is a more precise way of expressing the landscapes, forms, materials, etc that the survey encountered. “Pictorial Rhetoric” became the tool for people like Ferdinand Hayden in order to increase (or sustain) federal appropriations for their continued surveys. One of the mor interesting portions of the articles many photographs is the sort of “line of custody” we see in O’Sullivan’s (i.e. The Survey’s) photographs:
A final thought on this reframing of photography as primary sources is stirred by the author byline in Kelsey’s article. “He is preparing a book on Survey photography.” If the article is any indication it will be an excellent book. I wonder though, if the pendulum is swinging too far into the study of photographs as primary sources that they will become more detached from their created context as they become topics or study. Something like Survey photographs is an excellent topic to undertake, but at the time the photographs, as graphic representations, were another means of transferring information and raising interest in the surveys, government exploration, and the American West as construed by the myth-makers. I think it shows the power of photographs to evoke audience interest and emotion that no popular book has been written on the Survey graph or map making or their field reports as entities. Journals have been reprinted and photos as well, but I think it will a long time before the similarities and differences between visual and literary will ever be hammered out.