From the Archives #20

BY SEBASTIAN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Summer is upon us, and with it come a number of summer blockbusters at the movie theatres. Movie companies put out some of the biggest draws of the year during summer, in order to appeal to children and families not in school, and too hot to be outside. But people haven’t had movies to distract them for very long, only since the end of the 19th Century and beginning of the 20th Century. Only then did films become a normal part of culture.

Prior to that time period, people would find entertainment in other manners. Theatre, music, reading, newspapers, and so on. However, there was still another form of entertainment available, now known as pre-cinema. This genre was an attempt by many inventors and entertainers to use technology to trick the eye into seeing something that was not there.

Some used effects, such as mirrors to create illusions. While others knew the eyes sees in stereo. The stereoscope was an early 1800s invention that showed two images side-by-side, but both at ever so slightly different angles. Using mirrors, or a barrier between the eyes, the devices would trick the eye to think it was looking at the same image from different angles. The eyes would see this as a three dimensional image, and the contents of the photographs would pop. It was an early form of 3D.

For this month’s From the Archives, we present a stereoscope and stereoscopic views found in the archives. The details on how we acquired this item and views is unknown, though collecting such materials in the early 1900s was quite common. Much like other photographs from the era, they were sold to people wanting to see Europe and northern Africa and Palestine. This was before tourism took off and people began traveling to those destinations themselves. This particular stereoscope, a Holmes stereoscope, was perhaps purchased by Francis Kelsey himself.

The stereoscope is here shown with various views of daily life from Palestine. These were created by Underwood & Underwood, a popular photographs distributor from the era. Aside from the views, the cards come packed in a box that looks like two books, simply titled “Palestine.” These views could have been used to educate students on what Palestine looked like at the time, maybe as they learned about ancient Roman life in the area, or the times of Jesus Christ. Whatever the original intention, the views and device remain at the Kelsey Museum. Though broken, they remind us what entertainment people had, and they remain educational for us, but in different ways.

 

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