Presented by: Shannon Taggart
Astronomers, religious leaders, and members of the lay public had speculated about the possibility of life on other planets for hundreds of years before the first “proof” appeared, in May 1905, in the first successful photographs of Mars. Newspapers and magazines swiftly published reproductions of the photographs, made by the amateur planetary astronomer and wealthy businessman Percival Lowell, with accompanying descriptions of the “canals” of Mars and its imagined inhabitants. This illustrated talk shows how the intersection of science with new forms of observation and journalistic image display in the late 19th and early 20th century galvanized public interest in Mars, and how “Mars Mania” intersected and interacted with key trends and figures in art, journalism, spiritualism, astronomy, evolutionary science, and politics during a period that, noted the British writer H.G. Wells, was fascinated by the idea that “There are certain features in which [Martians] are likely to resemble us.”
Jennifer Tucker is a historian of science and technology specializing in the study of visual representation, gender, science, and popular knowledge in Victorian England. She is the author of Nature Exposed: Photography as Eyewitness in Victorian Science (2006) and editor of a special issue of History and Theory on “Photography and Historical Interpretation, “ as well as articles about the visual representation of science and technology in Victorian England. She is finishing a book about the photos and other visual representations that circulated across the wide social spectrum of Victorian society during the most famous legal case of imposture in modern Britain.