UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The dynamics of spectatorship in the first panoramas : vision, the body and British imperialism, 1787-1820 Oleksijczuk, Denise June Blake


This thesis investigates the dynamics of spectatorship in the panorama, a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree visual medium that Robert Barker invented and patented in 1787. The study addresses the effects of the first panorama representations on their urban audiences in Edinburgh and London in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Four chapters of the thesis explore specific panorama exhibits: the View of Edinburgh and the Adjacent Country from the Calton Hill (1788), the View of London from the Roof of the Albion Mill (1791), the View of the Grand Fleet, Moored at Spithead (1793) and two different panoramas of the View of Constantinople (1801). As an overview and conclusion, the final chapter examines the descriptive keys for the panorama views produced by Barker and his son between 1793 and 1820. The approach the thesis takes involves examining the tensions at work in the relations of exchange between the panorama as a new visual medium and its urban viewers. At issue is the point of exchange between the dictates of the panorama's visual form (that is, its subject matter and the potential viewing positions established by its cylindrical format), and the multiple usages and appropriations by its spectators. My thesis argues that by transporting its spectators to other places in the city, country and world beyond Britain's borders, the panorama created a spatial and temporal disjunction between a 'here' and a 'there' that became a crucial locus for the formation of new identities. As I show, the viewing process could be differentiated through the use of different types of spatial narratives. For example, there is evidence to suggest that the panorama view of Edinburgh (1788) was used not merely to identify and locate objects in three-dimensional space, but to bring a historical narrative concerning the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion to life. Furthermore, at least two modes of perception—one static and perspectival, the other mobile and physiological—were encouraged by the panorama vistas. The panorama's technology was complicated further by the production of two different views of the same city, as in the case of the views of Constantinople, which were exhibited in the upper and lower circles of observation at the same time. This innovation allowed each view to cite the other as evidence of its verisimilitude and 'truth,' a process that had the potential to change the act of seeing into the act of believing. The panoramas exhibited in Britain from 1788 to 1820 had a tremendous effect on the ways in which their spectators saw themselves as national subjects within an imperialist culture. In reconstructing a series of politically charged physical realities by means of a sophisticated illusionism, these images attempted to fix what it meant to be British. But, as the thesis demonstrates, in different contexts and in different ways, the panoramas and their keys also allowed space for the production of multiple and conflicting identities.

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