On November 2, 2018, Professor Vance Byrd (Grinnell College) presented a paper titled “Intermediale Selbstthematisierung: Nineteenth-Century Illustrated Periodicals, Panoramas, and Commemoration,” which is based on current research that examines the relations between photography, panorama and war journalism. In the paper, he focused on the work of two panorama artists: Friedrich Wilhelm Heine and Theodore R. Davis, which he treated as representative of nineteenth century commemorative culture. In describing the stakes of the project, Professor Byrd voiced his intention to shift the existing scholarship on commemoration away from a sort of “methodological nationalism” towards “writing comparative global media history.”
Byrd’s paper also raised the issue of contextualization by asking whether an artwork that has taken on a new meaning should be presented to the public by seeking to recover its original context. This led to a conversation on the constructedness of historical narratives as telescoped by the question of whether, due to their inherent mediation (through notes - sketches - wood engravings), panoramas could be considered less authentic than verbal war narratives.
While acknowledging the panorama’s important role in provoking reflection about social and historical subjects, Byrd stressed that this very function can be problematic, since the perspective a panorama lends to historical knowledge always remains simplified rather than differentiated. Many questions following Byrd’s short presentation revolved around the forms that productive spectatorship can take in this inter-medial context, as well as how one is to appraise the relation between different kinds of media. (Sophia Léonard)