Abstract

Abstract:

This essay argues that in the early nineteenth century, the heavens functioned as a non-linguistic medium of communication. Meteor showers, eclipses, and comets seized the attention of viewers across the United States and were subsequently harnessed by community leaders to validate religious and political movements. Using people's responses to different heavenly signs as they were recorded in newspapers, court depositions, almanacs, speeches, and religious tracts, this essay reconstructs the interpellative power of astronomical events—their capacity to seize people's attention—and the conflicts between religious and reform communities over how to interpret them. This conflict provides the context for one of the most unusual claims about heavenly media in the early nineteenth century—Nat Turner's assumption that an astronomical event could coordinate a revolt among geographically dispersed viewers.

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-7438
Print ISSN
2166-742X
Pages
pp. 285-306
Launched on MUSE
2018-11-30
Open Access
No
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