Risky Business: Chance and Contingency in American Art, 1876-1907


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Department of Art History and Archaeology


This project considers the intersection of American visual culture and the rhetoric, logic, and imagery of institutions and disciplines dedicated to rationalizing chance—insurance, probabilism, statistics—from 1876 to 1907, when popular, legal, social, and scientific conceptions of the accident were significantly revised. This study adds to recent social histories of chance by considering understudied visual materials—illustrations of accidents, insurance advertising, statistical atlases, composite photographs—to suggest not only how they inform major artworks but also how visual culture participated in underwriting an emerging conception of the world as an ultimately indeterminate, chance-based system. It demonstrates how chance was socially constructed and visually articulated.