Cover image for American archives : gender, race, and class in visual culture
American archives : gender, race, and class in visual culture
Smith, Shawn Michelle, 1965-
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xi, 299 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TR680 .S59 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Visual texts uniquely demonstrate the contested terms of American identity. In American Archives Shawn Michelle Smith offers a bold and disturbing account of how photography and the sciences of biological racialism joined forces in the nineteenth century to offer an idea of what Americans look like--or "should" look like. Her varied sources, which include the middle-class portrait, baby picture, criminal mugshot, and eugenicist record, as well as literary, scientific, and popular texts, enable her to demonstrate how new visual paradigms posed bodily appearance as an index to interior "essence." Ultimately we see how competing preoccupations over gender, class, race, and American identity were played out in the making of a wide range of popular and institutional photographs.

Smith demonstrates that as the body was variously mapped and defined as the key to essentialized identities, the image of the white middle-class woman was often held up as the most complete American ideal. She begins by studying gendered images of middle-class domesticity to expose a transformation of feminine architectures of interiority into the "essences" of "blood," "character," and "race." She reads visual documents, as well as literary texts by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Pauline Hopkins, and Theodore Dreiser, as both indices of and forms of resistance to dominant images of gender, class, race, and national identity. Through this analysis Smith shows how the white male gaze that sought to define and constrain white women and people of color was contested and transformed over the course of the nineteenth century.

Smith identifies nineteenth-century visual paradigms that continue to shape debates about the terms of American belonging today. American Archives contributes significantly to the growing field of American visual cultural studies, and it is unprecedented in explaining how practices of racialized looking and the parameters of "American looks" were established in the first place.

Author Notes

Shawn Michelle Smith is Assistant Professor of English and American Studies at Washington State University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xii
Introduction American Archivesp. 3
Chapter 1 Prying Eyes and Middle-Class Magic in The House of the Seven Gablesp. 11
"Magnetic" Daguerreotypes and the Masculine Gazep. 12
Evil Eyes and Feminine Essencep. 19
Making the House a Homep. 24
The Public Private Spherep. 26
Chapter 2 The Properties of Bloodp. 29
The Blood That Flows in Subterranean Pipesp. 31
Blood, Character, and Racep. 41
The Spectacle of Racep. 45
Seeing Bloodlinesp. 47
Chapter 3 Superficial Depthsp. 51
The Portrait and the Likeness. Photographing the Soulp. 55
Class Acts: Real Things and True Performancesp. 62
The Criminal Body and the Portrait of a Typep. 68
Consuming Commodities: Gender in the Age of Mechanical Reproductionp. 93
Chapter 4 "Baby's Picture Is Always Treasured": Eugenics and the Reproduction of Whiteness in the Family Photograph Albump. 113
Mechanically Reproducing Babyp. 115
Reproducing Racial Inheritancep. 122
Sentimental Aura and the Evidence of Racep. 132
Chapter 5 America Coursing through Her Veinsp. 136
From the Bonds of Love to Bloodlinesp. 137
America's White Aristocracyp. 141
In the Name of White Womanhoodp. 144
"A Heritage Unique in the Ages"p. 150
Chapter 6 Photographing the "American Negro": Nation, Race, and Photography at the Paris Exposition of 1900p. 157
Racialized Bodies, National Character, and Photographic Documentationp. 158
Making Americansp. 167
Conserving Race in the Nationp. 177
Chapter 7 Looking Back: Pauline Hopkins's Challenge to Eugenicsp. 187
Envisioning Race: Bodies on Display in Hagar's Daughter "Sons of One Father"p. 194
Excavating the Hidden Selfp. 198
Visions beyond the Color Linep. 203
Chapter 8 Reconfiguring a Masculine Gazep. 206
Visions of Commodified Identity in Consumer Culturep. 207
Conspicuous Consumption under a Masculine Gaze: Rethinking Gender in Sister Carriep. 210
Parting Glancesp. 220
Afterimages A Brief Look at American Visual Culture in the 1990sp. 222
Notesp. 227
Bibliographyp. 271
Indexp. 291