Working Group on the Novel: Rachel Bolten, English Department, Dissertation Chapter
Respondent: Elizabeth Kessler, American Studies
Abstract of the Dissertation Project:
The late nineteenth century saw the development of astrophotography, with its blurred capture of the moon, then constellations, then points invisible to the naked eye. In 1880 Henry Draper (whose father was first to photograph both the moon and a human face) made cloudy images of the Orion Nebula. In this chapter ("Star") I read Draper alongside the scientist and artist Étienne Léopold Trouvelot and the African-American quilter Harriet Powers. Trouvelot, infamous for introducing an invasive species of moth to North America, made color illustrations of telescope views through the 1870s and 80s, published by C. Scribner’s Sons in 1882 as The Trouvelot Astronomical Drawings, gorgeous but made almost immediately obsolete by astrophotography. Powers’ Pictorial Quilt (1898), one of two surviving pieces by the artist, records meteorological and astronomical events: the dark day of May 19, 1780, the falling of the stars on November 13, 1833, Cold Thursday, February 10, 1895, and the red light night of 1846. Many of these are sewn not from personal but collective memory; Powers was born into slavery in 1837. This chapter considers how description might represent the past, or time, at both a cosmic and more human scale.