Thesis ID: CBB001567292

The Rules of Perception: American Color Science, 1831--1931 (2011)


Rossi, Michael Paul (Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
Jones, David S.

Publication Date: 2011
Edition Details: Advisor: Jones, David S.
Language: English

Although vision was seldom studied in Antebellum America, color and color perception became a critical field of scientific inquiry in the United States during the Gilded Age and progressive era. Through a historical investigation of color science in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I argue that attempts to scientifically measure, define, and regulate color were part of a wider program to construct a more rational, harmonious, and efficient American polity starting from one of the very baseline perceptual components of reality--the experience of color. As part of this program, I argue secondly that color science was as much a matter of prescription as description--that is, color scientists didn't simply endeavor to reveal the facts of perception and apply them to social problems, they wanted to train everyday citizens to see scientifically , and thereby create citizens whose eyes, bodies, and minds were both medically healthy and morally tuned to the needs of the modern American nation. Finally, I argue not simply that perception has a history--i.e. that perceptual practices change over time, and that, for Americans of a century ago, experiences of color sensations were not taken as given but had to be laboriously crafted--but also that this history weighs heavily upon our present day understanding of visual reality, as manifested not least of all in scientific studies of vision, language, and cognition. Employing a close reading of the archival and published sources of a range of actors including physicist Ogden Rood, semiotician Charles Peirce, logician Christine Ladd-Franklin, board game magnate Milton Bradley, and art professor Alfred Munsell, among others, this study reveals the origins of some of the most deeply-rooted conceptions of color in modern American culture. (Copies available exclusively from MIT Libraries, Rm. 14-0551, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307. Ph. 617-253-5668; Fax 617-253-1690.)


Description Cited in Dissertation Abstracts International-A 73/06, Dec 2012. Proquest Document ID: 931640695.

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Authors & Contributors
Wade, Nicholas J.
Benjafield, John G.
Simon, Anne
Baker, Victor R.
Atkins, Richard Kenneth
Thwaites, Sarah. L.
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society
Journal of Design History
Physics in Perspective
Harvard University
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
University of Nevada, Reno
University of Chicago Press
University of Pennsylvania Press
Visual perception
Senses and sensation; perception
Philosophy of science
Peirce, Charles Sanders
Woodworth, Robert Sessions
Thorndike, Edward Lee
Witmer, Lightner
Ogden, Robert Morris
Proust, Marcel
United States
Great Britain
Leipzig (Germany)
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
16th century
18th century
University of Edinburgh
University of Toronto

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