"Weird Copies of Carnage:" Marketing Civil War Photographs and the Public Experience of Death
thesisposted on 2019-08-05, 00:00 authored by Alice Maggie Hazard
This dissertation examines the cultural impact of photographs of fallen soldiers taken during the American Civil War and explores how these photographic images influenced a shift in the understanding and experience of death and mourning from a private familial experience to a more public one in the nineteenth-century northern United States. By looking closely at photographs taken of dead soldiers, including photographs surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, as well as the advertising and marketing of those photographs, I consider how their exhibition and promotion, along with a focused marketing campaign and the publication of woodcut prints based on the images, disseminated photographs of the dead throughout the Union, thereby impacting cultural understandings. Combining a careful analysis of these photographs, their use, and dissemination, with a deep historical consideration of cultural and social understandings of death, I argue that battlefield photographs of the Civil War, like those taken after the battles of Antietam and Gettysburg, were formative in shifting the experience of death from the private to the public sphere. Too, photographs taken after Lincoln’s assassination helped to confirm the shift in the understanding of death and mourning as the public was forced to grapple with the death of a President after four years of brutal conflict. The Lincoln photographs are more mediated, showing views of the areas relevant to his death and the execution of those involved in the conspiracy to kill him. Yet they are important because they demonstrate how photographs function as a proxy for the literal representation of death and demonstrate how these photographs have had a reverberating effect throughout the nineteenth century and into today. Finally, the suppression of photographs of Lincoln lying in state and of the autopsy of John Wilkes Booth set a precedent for the later suppression of photographic images by official bodies as a way of determining and mediating public perception and the message that is disseminated in the public sphere which reverberates and continues to recur even today and is considered as well.