“A Sort of Picture Gallery”: The Visual Culture of Antebellum America


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Art History


This project examines the picture gallery as a material and conceptual framework that structured visual experience and social knowledge in the antebellum United States. Taking the proliferation of physical picture galleries as a point of departure, the project analyzes gift books, illustrated histories, subscription prints, and periodicals, charting the move from architectural space to the replicable, mobile, and intimate form of the printed page. Drawing on Frederick Douglass’s radical conception of the “soul of man” as “a sort of picture gallery,” it asks how these printed objects conditioned the self-knowledge he thought central to moral, social, and political progress. By working through the layered meanings and variable constructions of the picture gallery in the antebellum period, this project signals the complex role of art—whether on a wall, in a book, or in the mind’s eye—in brokering the relationship between the individual, the community, and the nation.