• 30 November 2016
  • 6:00 – 8:00 pm
  • Lecture Room, Paul Mellon Centre

Between 1938 and 1950, the Surrealist artist, Mass Observation Founder, and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings produced a scrapbook compilation of writings from 1660 to 1886 for what he called his “Pandaemonium” project. Jennings, one of the leading artists and interpreters of post-war Britain, is best known today for his patriotic war-time films, such as Listen to Britain (1942) and his final film, Family Portrait (1950), made shortly before his death in a mountain accident.

Never brought to completion during his lifetime, excerpts of “Pandaemonium” were published in 1938 in an issue of the London Bulletin edited by Jennings, but it was only finally published as a book in 1985, over thirty years after his death. (The filmmaker and director Danny Boyle, said he was inspired by images in Pandaemonium in telling a story about Britain’s place within the modern world for the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony).

In his “Pandaemonium” scrapbook of annotated writings, Jennings explored the way in which science and technology, through the Industrial Revolution, not only shaped the natural and industrial topography, but also informed ideas, language, perceptions, emotions and imagination of the inner landscape across a wide cross-section of British society.

This talk discusses the nature and significance of Pandaemonium as a source in the long history of the visualization of modernity. After considering new information about the background to the work, it will highlight its significance as one of the earliest histories to compose the historical narrative of modernization as a series of 'images' in popular historical imagination.

Image: Andre Deutsch detail from Coalbrookdale by Night by de Loutherbourg, 1801, oil on canvas, Science Museum, London / Bridgeman Images

About the speaker

  • Jennifer Tucker is a historian of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British society, who specializes in the study of the visual worlds of photographic and cinematic evidence, especially in the fields of science, law, forensic medicine, news reporting, courtroom trials, and the environment. Her recent publications include an article about work and waste in the Victorian alkali industry, published in the International Labor and Working-Class History journal; an interview with historian David Serlin about museums and public history during COVID-19 in “Guns, Germs, and Public History”, is published in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences (July 2021); a roundtable discussion about Ambivalent: Photography and Visibility in African History in The American Historical Review (December 2021); and a theme issue of Radical History Review on “Visual Archives of Sex” (January 2022), which she co-edited. Her current research traces the historical roots of the use of visual evidence in environmental science and pollution reform, and explores the visual representation in chemical climatology and the presentation of visual exhibits in Victorian courtroom debates over air and river pollution. She teaches in the History Department and Science in Society Program at Wesleyan University, and lives in New Haven, Connecticut.