Gray F (2013) Engaging with the magic lantern’s history. In: R Crangle & L Vogl-Bienek (Eds) Screen Culture and the Social Question 1880–1914 (pp. 172–180). New Barnet: John Libbey Publishing.
Gray's chapter appears in a volume that brings together essays by a range of European and American scholars on different aspects of the cultural uses of the magic lantern in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In an under-researched field of social and media history, Gray's chapter is the first to frame what can be discerned as 'magic lantern studies', outlining approaches to the 'hidden history' of this aspect of screen culture.
The magic lantern as a medium and as a cultural phenomenon represents a distinct screen practice that has developed systematically from its origins in the seventeenth century to the present day. The late nineteenth century marks that moment when the lantern had its greatest cultural capital. What is obvious and crucial to an analysis of this history is that it presents us with the visualisation and narrativisation of sets of related images, enlarged and projected onto a screen for an audience. Each slide and each show/performance had a very distinctive context. This chapter surmises that to therefore unlock the lantern’s history requires the generation of historically informed description and analysis that positions lantern practice and culture within a defined ideological context and locates it within particular moments of production and consumption. Gray also presents here valuable observations from his own experiences of research into lantern history in nineteenth-century Brighton. Finally, he offers some thoughts about how lantern studies could be nurtured as a discipline, suggesting interventions that could be made to invigorate scholarly interest in the field.
The project was initiated by a conference in London on Screen Culture and the Social Question, held in December 2011, led by the German Historical Institute and the University of Trier, and organised in cooperation with the Screen1900 Project at the University of Trier. One of the conference’s themes was the relative absence of scholarship on the magic lantern. Gray was subsequently invited to contribute this chapter to the resulting publication, Screen Culture and the Social Question 1880–1914.