Exploring Nationality Through Landscape Illustrations

My research project, “Exploring Nationality in the Illustrations of Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Landscapes as a Part of The Wide, Wide World Digital Edition,” is in full swing. The project, made possible through the URCA Associate program at SIUE, is working to analyze illustrations depicting landscape found throughout the more than 150 versions of The Wide, Wide World.

The illustrations and their placement in the text vary widely due to the novel’s publication during a time when there was no international copyright law between Britain and the United States. Publishers in both countries were free to alter the text and its illustrations with little to no restrictions, resulting in forty-seven sets of variant illustrations and over fifty different versions of the text. The illustrations include depictions of landscape ranging from pastoral ideal, such as the illustrations of Mr. Van Brunt tending his flock, which first appeared in an 1853 James Nisbet, Sampson Low, Hamilton, Adams, and Co. reprint (see below), to unkempt wilderness, such as the illustration of Ellen and Alice caught in a snow storm as they are searching for Captain Parry, which first appeared in an 1888 J. B. Lippincott Company reprint.

Throughout the project, I will be attempting to connect those representations to issues of nationality as I analyze the ways reprinters chose to portray and position the landscape, which will help to explain how segments of the population defined British and American identities between 1850 and 1950. Reprinters were aware that their readers would come from both Europe and the United States and that issues of nationality could not be ignored; the illustrations of landscapes they chose to include in their versions of the novel helped to define what it meant to be an American man, woman, Christian, and child. The illustrations depicting landscape also present an opportunity to analyze the impact of sentimentalism, broadly defined as the power of feelings to serve as a guide to moral conduct, as a political and cultural movement during the nineteenth century. Specifically, sentimentality becomes of great importance when looking at the illustrations of Alice and Ellen on the Cat’s Back as these particular illustrations pair the emotions of a distressed Ellen and the comforting presence of Alice with the open, sometimes rugged, often sublime landscape of the mountain. Emotion, and its ability to influence the reader, is here paired with the developing ideas of landscape in America, which helped to link the nation to ideas of emotional and spiritual awareness.

My work with the project is currently focusing on theories of nationality, landscape, and spatial relations, as well as working with the digitized versions of the illustrations to prepare them to be placed in galleries in the project’s Omeka site. This includes working extensively with Dublin Core, a controlled set of standards and vocabulary used on the website to describe each item, in order to provide thorough descriptions of each illustration. Once this step is completed, I will move on to analysis and to the creation of the galleries, which will include sub-galleries on watery expanses, American and British landscape, and character interactions in landscape. The sub-gallery on watery expanses will focus specifically on illustrations of ships crossing the ocean (see below), and the brook, a location made important through a scene in the novel that describes how Ellen attempts to cross and ultimately falls in after losing her balance, both of which become important when analyzing transatlantic relations. The sub-gallery on American and British landscapes will look at illustrations depicting landscapes from both countries in order to analyze the ways publishers from America and Britain were choosing to portray each nation; this will lead to conclusions about how each country was attempting to define and influence nationality, which will allow us to understand the development and refinement of nationality in America and Britain. The final sub-gallery will focus on illustrations that include representations of character’s interacting with each other and with the landscape. The movement and interaction of these characters will provide an opportunity to analyze the ways in which publishers were seeking to define Americans’ and Britons’ place in and development of nature.

Jennifer Roberts
Project Participant
URCA Associate

Mr. Van Brunt Tending His Flock

Ship at Sea