19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, No 5 (2007)

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Moving Books/Moving Images: Optical Recreations and Children's Publishing 1800-1900

John Plunkett


Optical shows and devices played a key role in nineteenth-century popular culture. Panoramas, dioramas, peepshows and magic lanterns were a widespread form of domestic and public recreation. The growth of optical recreations as a leisure activity parallels that of popular publishing, and this essay explores the concomitant aesthetic crossover between optical and print media. It particularly focuses on the production of a significant number of illustrated and movable books, usually aimed at a juvenile audience, which exploited the novelty of the latest optical recreation. These children's publications attempted to replicate the viewing experience of peepshows, panoramas and the magic lantern. The pervasive presence of optical recreations in popular culture meant that they exerted a creative pressure upon both the conceptual and material organisation of the book. This essay demonstrates the way that, in so far as it was possible, a raft of novelty books structured themselves as peepshows, dioramas or panoramas.


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