John Davis, Smith College and Chris Dingwall, University of Chicago | Newberry

John Davis, Smith College and Chris Dingwall, University of Chicago

Friday, January 17, 2014

3 pm to 5 pm

Towner Fellow’s Lounge

Center for American History and Culture Programs
American Art and Visual Culture Seminar

“Only in America: Thoughts on Exceptionalism, Nationalism, and Provincialism”
John Davis, Smith College

Abstract: Combining personal reflection and textual exegesis, this essay analyzes the nationalistic discourse on American exceptionalism in nineteenth-century art theory and criticism and reflects on how it has shaped the recent practice of American art history, which has sometimes resulted in the definition of American art by absence or negation. I contrast the essentialist interest in “ethos and essence” with the more material, provincialist framing of center and periphery, seeking to understand exceptionalism within an international and multi-lingual context.

“Reanimating Slavery: Memory, Automation, and the Alabama Coon Jigger”
Christopher Dingwall, University of Chicago

Abstract: One of the most popular toys during the 1915 Christmas season was a mechanical black dancer: Tombo, the Alabama Coon Jigger. Approaching Tombo as both a nostalgic reference to the “old plantation” and a product of an emerging machine culture, I argue that the toy did cultural work by replacing anxiety about mechanization with racialized “fun” between human and machine.

Comment: Elizabeth Kuebler-Wolf, University of St. Francis

Cost and Registration Information 

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically.  For a copy of the paper, email the Scholl Center at  Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.