The Plague of Jocularity: Art, Humor, and the American Social Body, 1863-1893


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


History of Art


This study examines the contested place of humor in American art in the years following the Civil War, when the nation was engaged in developing, for the first time, a truly 'high' sense of culture. Conservatives sought to present an image of unshakable seriousness on the world stage, one demonstrating that the nation had finally achieved some level of civility. Humor undermined this image and was accordingly seen as something that had to be contained or concealed. Painters and sculptors struggled to preserve a place in fine art for an ambitious and critical humor, against conservative impulses to channel it into a restrictive set of normalizing guises or ghettoize it as properly belonging to more mass forms of artistic production.