Tag Archives: 20th century

Photography and Eugenics [model abstract]

CriminalCompositesGreen, David. “Veins of Resemblance: Photography and Eugenics.” Oxford Art Journal 7.2 (1985): 3-16.

Abstracted by Victoria Byler

Green argues against the supposed objectivity of photographs. For much of their existence, photographs have been regarded as accurate recreations of reality; however Green exposes that photographs cannot be objective because “photographic representations are not constructed first and then used, but as representations they are always constructed in use” (4). Green substantiates that “knowledge cannot be regarded as autonomous or transcendent of the context in which it is used because in itself it is the product of, and intended to serve, manipulative and predictive interests”(4). He supports this claim through the conjunction of photography and the study of the formative stages of eugenics. Eugenics is the study of the sociocultural importance of characteristics passed down through generations to isolate the best traits and use them to perpetuate the human race, closely related to the concept of Social Darwinism. Green references the eugenic studies of Havelock Ellis and expounds upon the work of Francis Galton and his methods of composite photography, the practice of retaking photographs to reduce multiple images into a one generic image, to highlight the underlying implications of photography (11). Galton’s work analyzes people’s physical traits to find common features in different races, social classes, or most frequently- criminals to support the movement “not for a new social order but for the reconstitution of the old order at a higher level of efficiency” (15). Galton developed techniques to emphasize common traits, disseminated information about eugenics to doctors to gain support, and created a data collection system by recruiting amateur photographers to take pictures of family and friends to enlarge his image database.  The image Composite portrait of a criminal type exemplifies the type of image Galton produced in an attempt to explain the various economic and social shifts during the late 1800s. Photography aided the eugenics movement because in this period of time, photography was used as irrefutable documentation. Overall, photographs are always created for a specific reason; they never display ideas objectively. Therefore they subjectively recreate the situation the photographer attempts to capture based on their underlying social, political, or didactic functions. [344 words]


“Visual Ideograph” as rhetorical form (Model Abstract)


Edwards, Janis L., and Carol K. Winkler. “Representative Form and the Visual Ideograph: The Iwo Jima Image in Editorial Cartoons.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 83 (1997): 289-310.

Abstracted by Michael Sorensen

Edwards and Winkler investigate the parodied uses of Joe Rosenthal’s 1945 photograph of six U.S. servicemen raising an American flag during the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima in editorial cartoons.  The authors consider methods of visual analysis like metaphor, genre, and icon in examining the Iwo Jima image in parodies – but find them insufficient because the editorial abstractions only vaguely refer to the original image and do not analogize, represent too wide a variety of abstractions, and deviate away from the photograph’s original composition.  Instead, Edwards and Winkler contest that their concepts of “representative form” and “visual ideography” better explain the functions of these cartoons.  Representative form describes how the Iwo Jima image transcends immediate connotations to a more elusive, abstract meaning in the cartoons.  The authors also extend McGee’s idea of ideography from its function as a means of analyzing texts to a method of examining images.  Edwards and Winkler develop their claim by using a variety of newspaper political cartoons in conjunction with McGee’s four components of ideography.  First, McGee says ideographs must be a common term in political discourse.  The Iwo Jima image is used in cartoons about electoral competitions to standardize discourse for elite and non-elite audiences.  Second, an ideograph must represent a collective action to a goal.  In a visual context, the Iwo Jima image already represents collective action, but Edwards and Winkler show the abstracted modifications to that goal with comics that imply ideas like patriotism and equality.  Third, McGee maintains that ideographs authorize power and make behavior acceptable.  In a cartoon about the Gulf War, for example, the image functions as a comparison for determining the tolerability of the conflict.  Finally, McGee affirms that the previously mentioned judgments are culture-bound.  In the article there is a cartoon of a group of Marines looking up a recruit’s skirt; in an editorial context, culture-bound analysis seeks to determine how society accepts or rejects certain implications.  In their conclusion, Edwards and Winkler suppose that there is value in applying rhetoric used for examining text to crafting a more fluid means of analysis for images. [350 words]

The Irish Dave Chapelle of the 1910s? (model abstract)

[Note: this is my own model abstract of Soper’s article, for purposes of contrast with the two weaker examples from the databases. All the others tagged “model abstract” were written by students and posted with their permission. – PT]

Soper, Kerry. “From Swarthy Ape to Sympathetic Everyman and Subversive Trickster: The Development of Irish Caricature in American Comic Strips between 1890 and 1920.” Journal of American Studies 39.2 (August 2005): 257‐296.

Abstracted by Phillip Troutman

Soper challenges the popular and scholarly conventional wisdom that early twentieth‐century ethnic caricatures were nothing more than blatantly and demeaningly racist in intent and effect. Instead, drawing on recent studies in caricature, minstrelsy, and African‐American popular culture, Soper argues that stereotypes carried meanings that were multilayered, multivalent, and unstable. He researches Irish stereotypes in newspaper and magazine comic strips between 1890 and 1920, revealing six distinctive but often overlapping categories: the “inferior, animalistic, racial type”; the “cultural scapegoat”; “the laughable ethnic fool”; “the clever or wise fool”; the “’useful other’ in the romantic sense”; and “the heroic, subversive trickster” (258). He closely follows three case studies—Frederick Opper’s Happy Hooligan, Richard Outcault’s Yellow Kid, and George McManus’s Jiggs—to chronicle a trend towards greater complexity and subversion. He explains this dramatic change by way of three historical developments. First, the format evolved from single-panel gag comics to long‐running multi‐panel series, where character development—and therefore reader identification—were increasingly important; to sustain interest over time, readers needed to sypathize with the characters, not just laugh at them. Second, the shift from local papers to national syndication created an increasingly diverse readership, including more Irish‐Americas, and comics now had to play to a broader middle-ground audience. Third, Irish-American cartoonists themselves eventually found commercial success, sometimes using Irish stereotypes to critique the dominant white culture. In his conclusion, Soper briefly addressses the larger question of whether racist caricatures can ever be fully redeemed. He critiques the “cultural amnesia or naivety” characterizing the unthinking proliferation of racial stereotypes in popular culture; instead, he calls instead for a self‐conscious “revival of playfully ambivalent genres of ethnic comedy” (296).  [272 words]