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Optics of American Empire: James Ricalton and Stereoscopic Ethnography in Early Twentieth Century India, 1888-1907

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During the mid-nineteenth century, stereoscopy became a monumentally popular and heavily studied component of British and American optical science. James Ricalton (b. 1844-1929), an American photographer and traveler, utilized stereoscopy and stereography for the production of travel cards that displayed 'non-Western' locations and peoples. This thesis examines Ricalton's deployment of stereography and shows that Ricalton's brand of stereographic practice participates in contemporaneous ideological formations concerning social Darwinism, civilizationism, and American exceptionalism. I visually analyze fifteen of Ricalton's original 100 stereographic prints from India Through the Stereoscope: A Journey through Hindustan" (1900) to show that Ricalton's orientation towards the people and places he photographs is a complex negotiation of his own masculinity, narratives of American nationhood, and dominant ideologies of nineteenth century colonial apologism. I argue that Ricalton's usage of stereoscopy and stereography forms a 'hybridized' archive that does not fit into standard photographic typologies of the nineteenth or twentieth centuries.

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