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Title:Critical habitat: Picturing extinction, conservation, and the American animal in the long twentieth century
Author(s):Landau, Jessica
Director of Research:Weissman, Terri
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Weissman, Terri
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Griffis, Ryan; Reitz, Erin; Jones, Jamie; Hutchinson, Elizabeth
Department / Program:Art & Design
Discipline:Art History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):environmental humanities
American art
Abstract:Critical Habitat’: Picturing Extinction, Conservation, and the American Animal in the Long Twentieth Century, looks at images of at one time endangered or threatened animals in order to develop what I have named a specifically American conservation aesthetic. Within a conservation aesthetic images are almost always dialectic – connected simultaneously to attempts to preserve biodiversity and the natural world while reifying tropes that lead to its destruction. Additionally, the conservation aesthetic is linked to legislation histories and practical actions both to preserve and destroy particular natural places or species – images within a conservation aesthetic can be never be read as isolated objects, but instead are always part of broader ecologies. Understanding this conservation aesthetic allows for an interpretation that extends beyond the traditional art historical understanding of American landscape as part of nation building, but rather reveals the potential each image holds for viewers in the here and now to think differently about the natural world, and their relationship with it. The conservation aesthetic becomes an analytic, presenting a new methodology for the incorporation of the study of material culture into the environmental humanities. The dissertation examines material culture from the long twentieth century. It begins with the early trap camera photography of George Shiras, a Pennsylvania Senator and amateur naturalist, who attempted to use photography as a means to replace gun hunting and preserve American game animals. Next, I compare the sporting art of Carl Rungius and the natural history murals of Charles Knight to analyze the place of nostalgia in extinction, species endangerment and representation within the conservation aesthetic. To understand the role of time and place within the conservation aesthetic, my dissertation analyzes the photography series Diorama by Hiroshi Sugimoto. Sugimoto’s images, uncanny photographs of the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History, destabilize the viewer, and perhaps hold more meaning for present day viewers than they did at the time of the photographs’ production. Lastly, I examine the mythology of Bigfoot and attempts to picture the beast. Bigfoot photography, on the one hand, attempts to reify tropes of early 20th century masculinity and Manifest Destiny, yet also disrupts the mythologies of wilderness which created Bigfoot in the first place. Overall, the dissertation uses material culture to expose and develop the dialectics of images viewed as part of a conservation aesthetic.
Issue Date:2020-08-19
Rights Information:Copyright 2020 Jessica Landau
Date Available in IDEALS:2021-03-05
Date Deposited:2020-12

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