(New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), ISBN no. 9780190268978
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Photography, lithography, and steam printing created a pictorial revolution in nineteenth-century society. The proliferation of visual prints, ephemera, spectacles, and technologies transformed public values and perceptions, and its legacy was as significant as the print revolution that preceded it. Consuming Identities explores the significance of the pictorial revolution in one of its vanguard cities: San Francisco, the revolving door of the gold rush. In their correspondence, diaries, portraits, and reminiscences, thousands of migrants to the city by the Bay demonstrated that visual media constituted a central means by which people navigated the bewildering host of changes taking hold around them in the second half of the nineteenth century, from the spread of capitalism and class formation to immigration and urbanization. Images themselves were inextricably associated with these world-changing forces; they were commodities, but as representations of people, they also possessed special cultural qualities that gave them new meaning and significance.
Visual media transcended traditional boundaries of language and culture that divided diverse groups within the same urban space. From the 1848 conquest of California and the gold discovery to the disastrous earthquake and fire of 1906, San Francisco anticipated broader cultural transformations in the commodification, implementation, and popularity of images. For the city's inhabitants and sojourners, an array of imagery came to mediate, intersect with, and even constitute social interaction in a world where virtual reality was becoming palpable.
“Consuming Identities is a magisterial account of San Francisco and the rise of visual culture in the nineteenth century. It transforms our understanding of the city, of the nation, and of the significance of photography and prints to people’s lives. Brilliantly conceived, tirelessly researched, and intricately and elegantly written, it is one of the most important books on American culture to appear in years--destined to become a classic.”
~ John Stauffer, Sumner R. and Marshall S. Kates Professor of English and of African and African American History, Harvard University, and the author, most recently, of Picturing Frederick Douglass
“This is an extraordinarily intelligent study of the visual culture of nineteenth-century America, focussed on the specific locale of San Francisco. Stories of gold, earthquake, and photography converge in a rich tapestry of vernacular images of miners, criminals, prostitutes, and celebrities. Immersing the reader in a visual world produced and consumed in a singular place and time, this book shows us how the study of visual culture works at its best. It plumbs deeply into a unique archive that has wide-ranging implications for the construction of modern identities in an age of accelerating desires and dangers.”
~ W. J. T. Mitchell, Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor of English and Art History, the University of Chicago
“The California gold rush and the state's admission to the union coincided with the rise of photography and the development of visual culture. This offered Californians from a variety of social backgrounds a fresh way to understand themselves and to represent their experiences to the rest of the country. In this groundbreaking study Amy K. DeFalco Lippert examines the effects of these new forms of cultural expression on California and the nation as a whole. The study offers a significant new understanding of the manner in which Americans attempted to cope with the social and economic changes that swept over the country in the second half of the nineteenth century.”
~ Robert M. Senkewicz, Professor of American History, Santa Clara University
"A superb chronicle of mass culture in San Francisco in the mid-late nineteenth century....an engaging, and often compelling, narrative about the importance of visual culture for understanding Gold Rush-era San Francisco....It is provocative, informative, and encyclopedic in its coverage of San Francisco’s visual culture in the decades bridging the Gold Rush. In short, Consuming Identities is sure to become a staple in the bookcases of historians studying visual culture, urban history, and the West."
Jennifer M. Black (Misericordia University) Published on H-California (July, 2018)
"The best histories recreate and respect the cultures of their time while giving us
insights into our own. One of the important through-lines in this book is the ways in
which photographs were implicated in the creation of a new 'virtual intimacy' that all but
defines modern life both then and now....Lippert’s book convincingly lays the foundations
for understanding our late-capitalist obsession with and immersion in virtual
intimacy in the first decades of the twenty-first century. In the breadth of its research, the
variety of its sources, and its intellectual sophistication, Consuming Identities is destined
to become a classic in the field."
Christine Hult-Lewis (Bancroft Library), California History (Summer 2019)
"In Consuming Identities: Visual Culture in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco, Amy K. DeFalco Lippert argues convincingly that San Francisco stood in the vanguard of a new nineteenth-century visual culture centered on lithography, photography, and visual spectacles as diverse as tableaux vivants, panoramas, and minstrel shows. The contention that California’s gold rush metropolis proved such a fertile ground for the development of these cultural forms is fresh and original. Also innovative is the way that Lippert ties the explosive growth of this visual culture to the city’s unique conditions in the 1850s and beyond. As the port of disembarkation
and embarkation for seafaring migrants, as the postal node through which sojourners exchanged letters with loved ones back home, and as the nexus for gold rush goods and capital, San Francisco became a laboratory for the century’s preoccupation with the relationship between external appearances and internal substance."
Susan Lee Johnson (University of Nevada, Las Vegas), The American Historical Review (Oct. 2019)
"Engagingly written, meticulously researched, and extensively documented, this handsome volume examines the development of visual imagery in San Francisco in the last half of the 19th century; the rapidity with which almost every method of image reproduction appeared regardless of its place of origin; and what this imagery meant, culturally, socially, and historically. Lippert (American history, Univ. of Chicago) succinctly describes the unique origins of the city itself, the impact of the Gold Rush and the rise of Gold Rush photography, the appearance of individuals from almost every region of the world, and the rapid dissemination, both local and distant, of visual images. The author’s discussion, in the introduction, of the 'pictorial revolution' embraces not only acknowledgement of changes in the production of images through the rapid appearance of the latest international developments in daguerreotypes, but also what the commodification of these images meant for the citizens of San Francisco and the nation as a whole. Her perceptive interpretation of this burgeoning visual culture takes advantage of many resources that have been only modestly interpreted. Particularly valuable are the detailed, comprehensive notes that accompany each chapter."
P. D. Thomas (emeritus, Wichita State University), Choice (Sept. 2018)
"Consuming Identities and its accompanying website showcase about 180 images, forty-eight of which appear in the book itself. Lippert adeptly mined rich collections of engravings, wood cuts, lithographs, daugerreotypes, stereographs, photographs, trade cards, and other media that constituted visual culture in the nineteenth century. Her masterful investigation of the circumstances under which such images were made and circulated is an important contribution to the field of visual culture. With its focus on mechanically reproduced images, Consuming Identities establishes how the terrain of the visual expanded considerably during the second half of the nineteenth century."
Alexis McCrossen, Reviews in American History 47 (2019) 393–398.
"Amy K. DeFalco Lippert, whose work represents the best of what can result when visual studies methods are combined with rigorous historical research....through Clark’s and Lippert’s intense scrutiny, we view these twinned metropolises through new eyes, as complex sites for the making,
viewing, and distribution of images. Not merely histories with images, but histories of and through images, both City of Second Sight and Consuming Identities uncover 'the manifold ways in which the verbal and visual intersected and informed one another in contextually specific ways' (Lippert 18)."
"Lippert chronicles San Francisco’s shift from a frontier site filled with mainly single young men, where the hierarchies of the East Coast did not apply, to an increasingly genteel metropolis populated by families and stocked with the commodities necessary to proper bourgeois life....Lippert takes care to establish the elements that make the city unique while also pointing out how intensive study of the site helps scholars form a greater understanding of larger nineteenth century American visual culture. Due to San Francisco’s unprecedentedly rapid expansion; its remoteness from other metropolitan areas; its incredible racial, ethnic, and class diversity; its lack of gender diversity; and its frontier ethos that collapsed traditional hierarchies and norms of deportment, the city served as an incubator for a rough-and-tumble Gold Rush legend that overturned expectations and challenged paradigms. Yet this very outlier status, Lippert argues, provided a space for experimentation with modern visual practices long before they were adopted in other parts of the country. Combining historical research into the individual experiences of San Franciscans and their networks of loved ones across the nation with theoretical approaches on the constitutive power of imagery for creating and disseminating identities, Consuming Identities provides a compelling look at how Gold Rush-era images became 'powerful instruments of human perception and mediators of interpersonal relationships' in a modernizing United States (15)....Lippert does not focus on urban space of the city so much as the people who inhabited it: prospectors, tavern owners, publishers, photographers, entertainers, and outlaws."
Vanessa Meikle Schulman (George Mason University), Journal of Social History (Winter 2019): 588-590, doi:10.1093/jsh/shy076.