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Willful Spectacles: The Splendid Camera Obscuras & Popular Observatories of Miss Maria Short


Willful Spectacles: The Splendid Camera Obscuras & Popular Observatories of Miss Maria Short

Loader, Alison Reiko (2018) Willful Spectacles: The Splendid Camera Obscuras & Popular Observatories of Miss Maria Short. PhD thesis, Concordia University.

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Histories of old media generally locate women on view and in the audience, but rarely position them as owners or operators in control of a screen. An archival study of the forgotten founding of Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura by Maria Theresa Short addresses this shortcoming and explores a device that is itself marginalized by media scholarship. Whereas most accounts abstract the camera obscura as a teleological forerunner and foundational component of inscriptive optical media, or as a metaphor of disembodied and distantiated vision, they overlook its use as a nineteenth-century exhibition apparatus, especially in connection to women and scientific spectacles. Yet one of the foremost and oldest purpose-built attractions in Edinburgh boasts an extraordinary history that speaks directly to such absences. In a towertop walk-in optical device, spectators stand in the dark around a touchable tabular screen while operators manipulate the capture and projection of a live, vivid and moving image of the city, which they present as a virtual guided tour. My research, pursued from a perspective of feminist media studies, explores how an unknown but willful spinster came to display this splendid apparatus and exhibit “the sublime truths of science” before the mid-nineteenth-century emergence of public museums and in defiance of municipal leaders, who would see to the demolition of her first venture. It comprises an in-depth inspection of Scottish archives that details the tactics, tensions and controversies surrounding the mysterious Miss Short and her popular observatories, and uncovers a history of scientific ambition and struggle that helps illustrate the culture in which they operated. Like the optical devices it investigates, “Willful Spectacles” reveals a complex and miniaturized monad that stands in for a shifting world where public space, its views and viewers were gendered, classed, and open to contestation.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Communication Studies
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Authors:Loader, Alison Reiko
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:Ph. D.
Date:February 2018
Thesis Supervisor(s):Sawchuk, Kim
Keywords:camera obscura, feminist media history, microhistory, nineteenth-century Edinburgh, popularization and professionalization, science and spectacle, screen studies
ID Code:983807
Deposited On:05 Jun 2018 14:15
Last Modified:05 Jun 2018 14:15


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