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Visions of the Industrial Age is a collection of essays based on a workshop held at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles in 2006. It is edited by Minsoo Kang, assistant professor of European history at the University of Missouri–Saint Louis, and Amy Woodson-Boulton, assistant professor of modern British and Irish history at Loyola Marymount. Their aim is to “make a significant contribution . . . to the examination of image’s dominance in modern culture” (p. xix). While individual essays frequently do shed light on unexpected connections between visual forms and nineteenth-century industry and technology, it is nevertheless difficult to identify the contribution of the volume as a whole.
There are fifteen short, illustrated essays, grouped in five parts, Envisioning the Industrial, Photographing the (Un)Real, Framing the Environment, Depicting the Scientific, and Exposing the Modern. The contributors represent a wide range of disciplines from art history and history of science to architecture and literature. In their preface, the editors reiterate well-rehearsed assertions of the nineteenth century as the birth of modernity and the ascent of the visual. However, while it does summarize the essays that follow, the preface does little to synthesize the contributions or to develop a clearly defined analytical scope for the volume as a whole. One is left wondering, therefore, how and to what extent nineteenth-century visual forms are categorically different from earlier representational tropes and traditions, such as Joseph Wright of Derby’s industrial scenes and the flourishing varieties of optical devices in the eighteenth century.
Similarly, neither the preface nor individual essayists do much to situate their case studies within the rich body of earlier scholarship on intersections of representation and industrialization. The editors assert that “scholars have investigated how . . . radical changes created continuous crises of representation, compelling European society to explore new possibilities of creative expression” (p. xviii). However, they do not engage further [End Page 934] with this scholarship. Seminal contributions such as Jonathan Crary’s influential Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (1990) and Anson Rabinbach’s The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity (1990) are included in the bibliography but absent from the introduction, and rarely discussed in the individual case studies. Historians of technology interested in the genealogy and current state of scholarship on aesthetic responses to industrialization find little orientation here.
The value of the collection, then, lies mostly in individual contributions, which frequently draw intriguing connections between different aspects of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century technology and culture. Paula Young Lee, for instance, uncovers multiple layers of meaning in Gustave Caillebotte’s painting of a veal carcass, a striking yet ambivalent comment on the commodification of the flesh and its pleasures in the industrial age. Readers may also enjoy the caricatures of Jean-Jacques Grandville, outrageous and troubling visual comments on the new culture of advertising investigated by Haejeong Hazel Hahn.
The material presented in essays on more straightforwardly technoscientific topics, such as William Crookes’s interest in spiritualism, Victorian amateur microscopy, and orreries, will be familiar to historians of science and technology. Hiroko Washizu’s essay (which is as much about the United States as it is about Europe) traces the orrery as a persistent image in nineteenth-century publications engaging questions of divine agency, such as the Bridgewater Treatises. Historians of technology will miss some classic references there, such as Otto Mayr’s seminal work on the clockwork metaphor.
Taken as a whole, the contributions provide a richer picture of nineteenth-century modernity than the preface would suggest. Authors show that responses to industrialization included not just the commonly investigated development of new forms of representation, but equally prompted the emergence of hybrid forms and the reappropriation of old techniques. Gerry Beegan’s essay, for example, investigates the amalgamation of photography with older artistic techniques, including practices such as the reengraving of photographs. Natasha Ruiz-Gómez elucidates Rodin’s ambivalent...