Recognizing Lincoln: Image Vernaculars in Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

This essay studies letters written to McClure's magazine in response to its 1895 publication of a previously unknown photograph of Abraham Lincoln. The letter writers mobilized what I call "image vernaculars," enthymematic arguments grounded in their social knowledge about photography, portraiture, and "scientific" discourses of character such as physiognomy. Armed with these image vernaculars, viewers argued the photograph was evidence of Lincoln's superior moral character, and they used it to elaborate an Anglo-Saxon ideal national type at a time when elites were consumed by fin-de-sicle anxieties about the fate of "American" identity.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-57
Number of pages27
JournalRhetoric and Public Affairs
DOIs
StatePublished - 2005

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Photography
nineteenth century
photography
magazine
elite
writer
anxiety
discourse
evidence
Visual Culture
Letters
time
American Identity
Anglo-Saxon
Anxiety
Abraham Lincoln
Elites
Moral Character
Physiognomy
Social Knowledge

Keywords

  • 1809-1865; ANGLO-Saxons; Illinois
  • Abraham
  • PHOTOGRAPHS; PHOTOGRAPHY; PHYSIOGNOMY; LINCOLN

Cite this

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AB - This essay studies letters written to McClure's magazine in response to its 1895 publication of a previously unknown photograph of Abraham Lincoln. The letter writers mobilized what I call "image vernaculars," enthymematic arguments grounded in their social knowledge about photography, portraiture, and "scientific" discourses of character such as physiognomy. Armed with these image vernaculars, viewers argued the photograph was evidence of Lincoln's superior moral character, and they used it to elaborate an Anglo-Saxon ideal national type at a time when elites were consumed by fin-de-sicle anxieties about the fate of "American" identity.

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