“Features of Cruelty Which Could Not Well be Described by the Pen”: The Media of Atrocity in Harper's Weekly, 1862-1866


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Art History


During the US Civil War, “Harper’s Weekly” often relied on photographic sources for its wood engraved illustrations, including images of abused enslaved persons, disabled soldiers, and other abject bodies. This project contends that “Harper’s” strategically employed photographs of atrocity during the Civil War and Reconstruction to persuade readers of Confederate inhumanity, despite their ambivalence toward the photographic medium. During this time of media transition, photographs were not privileged over other forms of illustration, and publishers used photographs as one of many sources to fulfill their goals. However, this project argues that “Harper’s” drew upon photography’s evolving documentary status in its application of images of atrocity to orient readers to its Republican and pro-Union point of view. This project differs from past studies of Civil War photography that prioritized photographic prints over reprographic engravings and distinguishes intermedial images of human suffering as forms of news-picturing during the Civil War period.