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Depicting Distant Suffering: The Politics of Images & Evangelical Humanitarianism in the Age of American Imperialism

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Abstract:

This presentations analyzes the visual culture of late-nineteenth century evangelical humanitarianism. While historians have explored the emergence of “humanitarian sensibility” in the modern West, most have focused on the importance of Enlightenment ideals or on the centrality of attitudes connected with the rise of market capitalism, largely neglecting the influence of images in “inventing human rights” or “imagining Humanity.” Those studies that do consider the connections between pictorial practices and humanitarianism concentrate either on antebellum anti-slavery agitation or on the effects of commercial entertainment and marketing during the early twentieth century. Probing how American evangelicals exploited innovations in print journalism and photography to arouse sympathy for suffering strangers during the 1890s illumines the ideological and historical linkages between late-nineteenth century relief efforts and earlier struggles to abolish slavery, while also foreshadowing the increasing entanglement of appeals for aid with the sensationalistic mass culture that intensified after the turn of the century. Studying the visual strategies evangelicals employed to inspire empathetic engagement with distant and culturally different others in an increasingly modern, interconnected, and imperial era also exposes the ambivalent and contested nature of late nineteenth-century humanitarianism. While American Protestants shared many assumptions about the nature of Christian charity, conflicting perspectives on the ethics of “sensational journalism,” diverging views on the spiritual integrity of American culture, and contrary opinions about the probity of American imperial expansion produced subtle but significant divergences in attitudes toward almsgiving. The “collective culture of humanitarianism” that emerged during the 1890s was, I argue, shot through with tensions and fissures made visible in the diverse ways evangelicals dealt with the challenges of depicting distant suffering.
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MLA Citation:

Curtis, Heather. "Depicting Distant Suffering: The Politics of Images & Evangelical Humanitarianism in the Age of American Imperialism" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509540_index.html>

APA Citation:

Curtis, H. D. "Depicting Distant Suffering: The Politics of Images & Evangelical Humanitarianism in the Age of American Imperialism" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509540_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: This presentations analyzes the visual culture of late-nineteenth century evangelical humanitarianism. While historians have explored the emergence of “humanitarian sensibility” in the modern West, most have focused on the importance of Enlightenment ideals or on the centrality of attitudes connected with the rise of market capitalism, largely neglecting the influence of images in “inventing human rights” or “imagining Humanity.” Those studies that do consider the connections between pictorial practices and humanitarianism concentrate either on antebellum anti-slavery agitation or on the effects of commercial entertainment and marketing during the early twentieth century. Probing how American evangelicals exploited innovations in print journalism and photography to arouse sympathy for suffering strangers during the 1890s illumines the ideological and historical linkages between late-nineteenth century relief efforts and earlier struggles to abolish slavery, while also foreshadowing the increasing entanglement of appeals for aid with the sensationalistic mass culture that intensified after the turn of the century. Studying the visual strategies evangelicals employed to inspire empathetic engagement with distant and culturally different others in an increasingly modern, interconnected, and imperial era also exposes the ambivalent and contested nature of late nineteenth-century humanitarianism. While American Protestants shared many assumptions about the nature of Christian charity, conflicting perspectives on the ethics of “sensational journalism,” diverging views on the spiritual integrity of American culture, and contrary opinions about the probity of American imperial expansion produced subtle but significant divergences in attitudes toward almsgiving. The “collective culture of humanitarianism” that emerged during the 1890s was, I argue, shot through with tensions and fissures made visible in the diverse ways evangelicals dealt with the challenges of depicting distant suffering.


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