Center for Historic American Visual Culture


Now Available on Video: “Learning to Look: The Interdisciplinary Value of Historical Visual Culture”

As Director of the Center for Historic American Visual Culture at the American Antiquarian Society, Nan Wolverton is a master at studying images, looking beyond what is readily apparent to uncover details that give fresh insight to a point in time or an aspect of society.

Speaking at a Readex breakfast event during the American Library Association Midwinter Conference in Chicago, Wolverton demonstrated her expertise, analyzing newspaper advertisements, photographs, broadsides, political cartoons, and even sheet music. She pointed out details easily overlooked—what the tablecloth in a 19th-century breakfast scene says about America’s place in the global economy, what a walking stick reveals about a former slave’s position, and why the image of a mental institution came to be stamped on dinner plates. She encouraged librarians, faculty, and students to look more deeply and use visuals to enhance their own teaching and research.

“The visual is overlooked as an important source of evidence,” Wolverton said. “An image can enhance the written record but it also can teach us something significant about which the written record can be silent or ambiguous.”

Wolverton explained how she uses images in her American Studies courses at Smith College as a way to introduce students to themes and references they may not otherwise understand, like how the “striped pig” relates to alcohol:  
Now Available on Video: “Learning to Look: The Interdisciplinary Value of Historical Visual Culture”

Civil War Imagery on Clipper Ship Sailing Cards

Our guest blogger today is Bruce D. Roberts, author of Clipper Ship Sailing Cards (2007) and Mechanical Bank Trade Cards (2008). His new article on "The Development of the American Advertising Card" appears in the April 2011 issue of The Readex Report.

In the mid-nineteenth century, clipper ships sailed from New York and Boston to San Francisco. Shipping lines advertised voyages of clipper ships via sailing cards, most of which were issued between 1856 and 1868. The American Civil War fell right in the middle of this span, and Civil War imagery is seen on many cards. The examples below are found in American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series I, a Readex digital archive created in partnership with the American Antiquarian Society.

Invincible

Civil War Imagery on Clipper Ship Sailing Cards

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