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Unseeing the Past: Vision and Modern British History

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This article considers how the status and functions of “visual” evidence have been theorized (and, indeed, marginalized) in historical writing about the British eighteenth and nineteenth centuries since the late 1970s. It suggests that what has emerged, despite the sensitivity with which pictorial, material and other primarily non-textual forms of evidence have been treated, is an often unreflective and unexamined category nominally labeled “the visual.” Such an appellation treats certain kinds of sources as both practically and epistemologically separate from forms of written documentation, despite the extent to which they actually combine different written and pictorial linguistic codes and conventions. Finally, the article positions this creation of difference within a much broader history of intellectual hostility towards non-textual representation to expose some of the implicit political consequences of maintaining such methodological distinctions.
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Keywords: British History; Historiography; Image Studies; Pictorial Turn; Visual Evidence; Visuality

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2008

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