Event—Public Programming

Marketing Antietam: Civil War Photographs and Death as a Cultural Commodity in the 19th Century North


When Mathew Brady launched an exhibition of photographs taken by Alexander Gardner after the Battle of Antietam it helped to spark a new way of visualizing death in times of war. More importantly, it prompted a new market centered around the sale of photographic images of combat death as a commodity and as objects for public consumption. The photographs from Antietam were promoted and sold throughout the war in newspaper advertisements and mail order catalogs. This marketing of images of the dead was unlike any previous attempt to sell such pictures because of the public nature of the marketing strategies and the promotion of these images as commodities for home consumption. Critically, the marketing of photographs from the Battle of Antietam situated death itself as an object for consumption, even entertainment, and transformed it into a commercial commodity that emphasized a new understanding of a cultural norm.