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[Bloomington, Ind.] : Indiana University
This dissertation excavates the global history of early screen culture by studying the letters, journals, and published narratives of missionaries who used projection equipment to supplement their spoken presentation of Christianity with visual material. As the most detailed eye-witness accounts of magic lantern shows on the fringes of the empire before the advent of photography, these primary sources enable me to reconstruct images that missionaries presented to audiences in the South Pacific and Africa, explore the local context of these events, and discuss the representation of magic lantern shows in textual sources. Far from being a one-way transmission of religious thought, magic lantern shows invited reciprocal performances from their audiences, ranging from lavish displays of wealth to tearful silence to raucous joke-telling. I suggest that these unscripted moments speak to the ways that audiences co-opted lantern shows as a means to negotiate their relationship to Christianity and to the empire. By foregrounding the contributions of audiences in the global south and “native” missionaries to magic lantern shows, I challenge Euro-centric histories of early screen culture. These case studies focus on four luminaries within the Victorian missionary movement: John Williams, David Livingstone, Samuel Crowther and his son Dandeson. Drawing from media studies and anthropology, I argue that magic lantern shows and their subsequent representation in text are best understood as moments of mediation. Textual accounts of lantern shows function as records of a multisensory event and as the material expression of embodied cultural practices. Excavating the layers of representation that have accrued over time results in a mode of analysis that I characterize as an “archaeology of mediation.” This dissertation takes the form of a website,, in order to reflect on the analog and digital technologies that shape our view of nineteenth-century lantern shows. As a study of the nineteenth-century screen experience, this dissertation explores the potential for digital publishing platforms to offer interactive, virtual encounters with archival material. The pdf contains the website’s introduction, table of contents, and bibliography. The supplemental files remediate the website’s content and its visual design.
Thesis (Ph.D.) - Indiana University, Department of English, 2019
pre-cinema, magic lantern shows, church history, Africa, Polynesia
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Doctoral Dissertation