Mass Media and the Rhetoric of Technological Progress

Mass Media and the Rhetoric of Technological Progress

Not that long ago Bill Gates said that “the internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.”  Although the internet has significantly impacted human communication, it is hardly the first form of mass media.  More than 150 years earlier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. mimicked the tone of Gates’s remark when he called the stereograph “the card of introduction to make all mankind acquaintances” (744).  Working with the Raymond Holstein Stereograph Collection at the Library Company this summer has made me think about the multiple moments throughout modern history in which new technologies have made communication more accessible to the general public.  More significantly, this experience has made me ask the question: what rhetorical strategies do societies use to emphasize the beneficial aspects of media and technological revolutions? Developed by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1838, the stereograph was the great-grandfather of today’s 3D media.  A stereograph uses two nearly identical photographs which produce the illusion of depth when viewed through a stereoviewer.  In the subsequent decades, other inventors improved upon Wheatstone’s design resulting in the commercialization of stereo photography. Beginning in the middle of the 19th century, the stereograph quickly became a form of easily accessible media in the United States.  While the daguerreotype, an early one-of-a-kind photographic process, used expensive silver plates, many early creators of stereograph views took advantage of  paper processes like the albumen print, which allowed for multiple copies of an image.  As a result, stereograph views had relatively low prices that increased both their production quantity and the size of their audience. Additionally, the mass-produced photographs facilitated a shift in subject matter. ...
The Female Physician: a Deviation from 19th-Century Gender Roles?

The Female Physician: a Deviation from 19th-Century Gender Roles?

This 19th-century image of a lone female physician making a heroic midnight visit seems out of context for a time in which the majority of women worked inside the home cooking, cleaning, and raising children.  However, it illustrated a book by a male writer who supported traditional conceptions of gender.  In his 1870 publication, Woman: Her Rights, Wrongs, Privileges, and Responsibilities, Linus P. Brockett argues that despite dangers like “midnight rides in dark nights and over rough roads,” the more delicate and nurturing qualities of women, especially their “tact…skill…[and]…knowledge how to manage…a child, which seems almost intuitive [to them],” gave women the potential to be excellent physicians (160-165). For one of my two projects at the Library Company of Philadelphia this summer, I’m looking for images of 19th-century American women that could be used as tools for teaching students American history. I’ve learned that even when women did venture outside of their homes, they could not escape the conceptions of domesticity and sentimentality that characterized them in their private lives.  These conceptions shape both Linus P. Brockett’s arguments for and reservations against female physicians.  Brockett explains that women’s domestic experience and sentimental capabilities would give them a leg up providing comfort to the sick and undertaking pediatric care. At the same time, he expresses the fear that female physicians might neglect their own motherly duties and that their sentimentality might make them ill-equipped to handle the harsh realities traveling physicians would face (Brockett 158-166).  From the debate over their role in temperance movements to the debate over their work with benevolent organizations like orphan asylums, the conversation by male...

The Man in the Moon – One Last History Mystery at LCP

In my last post I briefly described the work of digitizing American Sunday-School Union woodblocks. I’ve been holding off on writing this post because I hoped that I might be able to find an explanation for the above block, but alas, I’m entering my last week at The Library Company and it remains a mystery! Like Ever, I’ve found the Internet an invaluable resource in hunting down information: mysterious elements in images, words inscribed on the blocks which might help identify the places the images were used. The Library Company’s online database WolfPAC has listings of the works stored in the stacks above the main floor’s reading room.  Archive.org has a huge collection of digitized ASSU publications.  I’ve learned to use Authority Records from the Library of Congress (Hi Gabi!) to correctly describe the subjects of images: “Agriculture,” not “farming;” “living rooms,” not “parlors”!  With the help of a Google Books court case summary, I was even able to be what the chief of reference called a “history detective” and find out that one partnership of engravers was active two years earlier than previously recorded. Often the images are easy to describe with little or no research.  I struggled to describe this slightly bizarre block, though.  What can you make of a man in an orb, a dog, and a kite?  A little Googling of this mystery block suggested that it might be the man in the moon, but a search through all of the digitized ASSU books on Archive.org has yielded nothing.  A member of the Print Department even got in on the search, looking for any bindings...

Dispatches from the Lunchroom – and Other Discoveries at the Library Company

I know that “Lunch” was never considered an appropriate answer to the common elementary school question “What’s your favorite class?”  But I have to admit that the lunchroom is one of my favorite spots at the Library Company of Philadelphia! Why?  The lunchroom is actually located in the beautiful Cassatt House, the building connected to LCP where many of its steady stream of scholars stay for a few weeks or a few months.  (See the description here to read about the building’s impressive Philadelphia pedigree!)  I love lunch not just for the break, but because I get to take part in or listen in on fascinating discussions with some of these scholars and members of the LCP staff.  Because LCP’s collections span the 17th to 19th centuries, people come to research all kinds of different topics.  Many of the fellows and other researchers I’ve met so far have focuses in literature, history, history of medicine, and economics.  But lunchtime chats can range from discussions of the best edition of The Wasteland to the slightly sillier stories of two scholars’ past experiences as movie extras.  (The academic’s version of “But what I really want to do is direct”?) A few weeks ago a recently-arrived researcher asked about the academic and career backgrounds of the many people who work at LCP.  With the only actual staff member deeply engrossed in her reading (Another favorite lunchtime activity, of course!), the answering fell to me.  And while I couldn’t answer the question in full, I did share that one of the coolest parts of my internship so far is learning about the diverse specialties and interests...