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Reviewed by:
  • History of Illustration by Susan Doyle, Jaleen Grove and Whitney Sherman
  • Daniel F. Yezbick (bio)
Susan Doyle, Jaleen Grove, and Whitney Sherman, editors, History of Illustration. Fairchild–Bloomsbury, 2018. 592 pp, $90, $245.

History of Illustration provides a cornucopia of fresh, rich scholarship that will nourish myriad interests and appetites in comics studies. The text’s remarkable, egalitarian structure defies and destabilizes hierarchies of language, identity, discipline, and genre. Weighing in at a gargantuan 552 pages with over 900 exquisitely curated images, maps, charts, advertisements, and illuminations, History of Illustration pronounces itself an “inherently interdisciplinary” text dedicated to discovering illustration’s ongoing aims to “document, narrate, persuade, and ornament” human discourse (Doyle, et. al. xvii). Doyle, Grove, Sherman, and their international “meta-community” of contributors—dubbed The History of Illustration Project (HIP)—enlisted fifty-plus “volunteers, collectors, curators, educators,” scholars, and subject matter experts across multiple specializations to assemble a series of inherently global, post-canonical observations relating to dozens of interdependent fields and interests(xv).

The complete text divides its pedagogical address across five broad historical units:

  1. I. Illustrative Traditions from Around the World

  2. II. Images as Knowledge, Ideas as Power

  3. III. The Advent of Mass Media

  4. IV. Diverging Paths in Twentieth Century American and European Illustration

  5. V. The Evolution of Illustration in an Electronic Age [End Page 367]

The diverse chapters that comprise each unit also present their insights in theoretically ecumenical ways. Each incorporates several evocative theme boxes and breakout timelines to promote further consideration of key figures as divergent as Immanuel Kant and E. W. Kemble. Other sidebar discussions take on the politics of illustration including controversies revolving around postcolonial African maps or iconographic “Imbalances of Gender, Class, and Race” in children’s books (Sherman and Benham Yazdani 428). Even practices and innovations in science, medicine, and sociological inquiry like phrenology and the electron microscope earn edifying break-out commentaries which reflect on their influence over the shifting forms and fashions of technical, commercial, and creative visuality.

Such contrasts exemplify History of Illustration’s greatest achievement: a seemingly infinite, playful, and penetrating curiosity for zesty variety, dialectical difference, and intercultural exchange. This intrepid spirit of needful revision, urgent rediscovery, and equalized representation becomes a defining theme in Unit I. Thus, epoch-sweeping chapters like Binita Desai’s “A Pluralistic View of Indian Images: Second Century BCE–1990s,” Sonja Kelley and Frances Woods’ “Chinese Illustration, 100 CE–1900,” and Bolaji Campbell’s “Illustration in African Context, Prehistory–Early 2002” provide informative, empowering, and often exhilarating contextualization of non-European themes and traditions across illustrated media. Of the many excellent, non-Western summaries in Unit II, Irvin Cemil Schick’s “Illustrative Traditions in the Muslim Context, 1200–1900 CE” is perhaps the most urgently needed and cross-culturally informative, though Daphne Lange Rosenzweig’s thoughtful treatment of Japanese print culture, 1600–1900, and Maya Stanfield-Mazzi’s “Illustration in Latin America, Pre-Cloumbian Era–1950” are both equally innovative in their portrayal of complex and compelling artistic traditions beyond the Anglocentric canon.

Moving the project past the traditional boundaries of the Liberal Arts, Shelley Wall and David M. Mazierski each contribute rigorous surveys of gender ethics relating to medical and anatomical illustration, and Pamela Parmel’s “Six Centuries of Fashion Illustration, 1540–early 2000s” stands among the text’s most consistently enlightening historical treatments of visual art, human behavior, and commodity culture. Similarly, Wall and Mazierski’s survey of questions and problems relating to Natural History illustration, 1450–1900, provides a valuable tool for scholars and teachers working within the intersections of Art History and animal studies. The overall result is, quite simply, a potentially paradigm-shifting text applicable to interrelated disciplines from Information Science and the History of Medicine to fashion and textile studies, as well as Art History, Media Studies, Material and Visual Culture, and most certainly, the ongoing inquiry into comics and sequential narrative.

History of Illustration also offers valuable opportunities for the expansion of comics studies, especially for the enhanced examination of early print and editorial cartoon culture, children’s and adult book illustration, periodical and poster design, and, of course, serial pamphlet comics, graphic novels, and other forms of hybridized multimodal...


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pp. 367-370
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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