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"The Parochial Altruism of British Travel Prints"

Friday, October 2, 2015
12:00 AM
180 Tappan Hall, 855 S. University, Ann Arbor

According to Samuel Johnson “He only is a useful traveler who brings home something by which his country may be benefited”. Taking that claim seriously, this talk describes the extraordinary growth and geographic expansion of travel prints produced by British artists and publishers in the years between 1770 and 1830. Despite rhetorical claims to enlightenment ideals, disinterested aesthetics, and scientific quantification, this diverse set of visual material shared an undercurrent of national ambition. Borrowing the term “parochial altruism” from the social scientists Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, this paper analyzes British travel prints as the product of a genuinely risky endeavor undertaken on behalf of a political collective in the process of formation. Travel prints, in this account, helped Britons to visualize who belonged to this collective, who could be integrated, and who or what could not.

Douglas Fordham teaches, lectures, and publishes widely on eighteenth-century visual culture. He is the author of British Art and the Seven Years' War: Allegiance and Autonomy (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010) and a co-editor with Tim Barringer and Geoff Quilley of Art and the British Empire (Manchester University Press, 2007). Common themes running through his publications include the impact of political contingency on artistic form, the role of empire and globalization in the formation of Western art, and the relationship between representation and ecology. 

Presented by the University of Michigan Eighteenth Century Studies Group, in conjunction with the Department of the History of Art and the Department of English.