Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History of Art

First Advisor

Michael Leja


Moving pictures became an integral feature of American visual experience more than a century before the emergence of cinema. Scholars tend to locate the history of animated images within the domain of screen projection, concentrating on illusionistic optical toys and immersive panoramas. In contrast, this dissertation argues that nineteenth-century audiences’ interaction with moving image technologies primarily took the form of tactile encounters with a genre of intimately scaled, mass-circulated paper constructions that materialized in the United States by the late eighteenth century, especially layered anatomical illustrations, pull-tab prints, and manipulated books. These kinetic paper constructions beckoned viewers to their pliable surfaces, inciting beholders to lift flaps, open hinges, tug tabs, and glide slides into activated tableaux.

Mass-circulated, intimately scaled, and used in settings ranging from schoolrooms to surgical theatres, tactile images invite new questions about how senses beyond sight operated in the pursuit of knowledge. Three thematic case studies show how diverse audiences physically engaged with paper as a means of learning, reasoning, and negotiating issues ranging from control of women’s bodies to the abstract value of financial credit, ultimately carrying those same corporeal habits to encounters with painting and sculpture (including works by Raphaelle Peale, Hiram Powers, and David Claypoole Johnston). Challenging entrenched narratives of passive spectatorship and binaries of pictorial surface and depth, tactile images become a lens through which to understand questions central to art history: sensory reception, embodied viewing, and the cross-pollination of media.


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