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Phantoms of Remembrance: Photography, Trauma, and Memory in the South African War

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Abstract

This dissertation analyzes the memorialization of the South African Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) with specific attention to the construction of identity, trauma, and generational memory of the war in visual culture. This topic is approached through close analysis of visual representations of the war including especially more than six hundred stereoscopic photographs from the Underwood and Underwood collection dating from the turn of the century. These little studied photographs were key technologies in the shaping of modern South Africa’s apartheid racial system. Underwood and Underwood’s boxed sets of stereoviews of Africa, including images of the South African War, represented the single most significant visual encounter with Africa for Westerners in this period, shaping public perceptions. In the circulation of visual representations of the war, including in performed re-enactment, we observe the origins of U.S. sympathy for the Boer cause. The stereoscopes were used to develop a large-scale reenactment of the war at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Recently defeated Boer Generals traveled to the United States to participate as reenactors. The performances at the fair are a tableau vivant of the Underwood and Underwood stereoviews. As a work of public history, through tracing the recirculation of the photographs and other visual representations of the war, including in the reshaping of the War Museum of the Boer Republics, in Bloemfontein, South Africa, this study observes the continuing power of the war and its trauma in collective, public memory and the role of these images in constructing new racial discourses and identities.

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This item is under embargo until October 18, 2023.