This essay analyzes the visual culture of late-nineteenth-century humanitarianism on display in evangelical periodicals. Probing how American evangelicals exploited innovations in print journalism and photography to arouse sympathy for suffering strangers during the 1890s illumines the linkages between late-nineteenth-century pictorial humanitarianism and earlier struggles to abolish slavery, while also foreshadowing the increasing entanglement of appeals for aid with the sensationalistic mass culture that intensified after the turn of the century. Studying the visual strategies evangelicals employed to inspire empathetic engagement with distant and culturally different others in an increasingly modern, interconnected, and imperial era also exposes the ambivalent and contested nature of late-nineteenth-century humanitarianism. While American Protestants shared many assumptions about the nature of Christian charity, conflicting perspectives on the ethics of “sensational journalism,” diverging views on the spiritual integrity of American culture, and contrary opinions about the probity of American imperial expansion produced subtle but significant differences in attitudes toward almsgiving. The “collective culture of humanitarianism” that emerged during the 1890s was, I argue, shot through with tensions and fissures made visible in the diverse ways evangelicals dealt with the challenges of depicting distant suffering.
“Picturing Pain: Evangelicals and the Politics of Pictorial Humanitarianism in an Imperial Age,” in Humanitarian Photography: A History, ed. Heide Fehrenbach and Davide Rodogno (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 22-46.