The Tribulations and Simplicities of Image Analysis in Research

The research paper we were tasked with writing had several hardships in terms of the approach toward how to use available materials pertaining to the subject. My most difficult problems were the act of using a resource to try to alter our own lens on the topic of how an image described a particular aspect of the civil war, as well as trying to find a resource at all that fit the task. Together, both made the work behind the essay very tedious and removed some of my own perspective in place of ideas I didn’t necessarily agree with. Personally, I feel that the usage of other’s ideas when trying to interpret an image is destructive to the creative process because it forces a student to rely on other’s words to relay an idea that they themselves may have had. Furthermore, despite the many resources allotted to students in this task, I felt that my paper could have done without other’s interpretations because I couldn’t find a particular resource that made my words more effective. Rather, I had to constantly remember that providing a secondary source was necessary and I had to write to allocate the usage of said sources. In my opinion, the hardest part of a “research paper” in genera is trying to shoehorn another person’s ideas in simply because they are qualified to speak at length about the topic being discussed.

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My feelings as I dealt with various problems during research

There were some upshots to writing the paper in the form that was specified, however. The prompt allotted for a wide variety of different ways that the image in question could be analyzed and understood. The library training, despite my opinion of using sources, made the process of searching for a piece that was somewhat relatable became a less agonizing process. I primarily enjoy being able to analyze an image from an interpretive sense, which is precisely how I went about trying to come to a better understanding of my image. In essence, the research paper itself wasn’t a challenging task, and became more interesting as I picked apart “The Soldier’s Dream of Home” more and more. Once the task of dealing with the research portions was over and finished, the fact of the matter is that the paper itself was enjoyable to write and the topic of the image, mine being sentimental domesticity, was very interesting and made for a great topic to write about.

Accomplishment

My feelings after piecing together a coherent essay that frustrated me so.

Relating Articles; Picturing a War

[Le Beau, Bryan. “”colored Engravings for the People”: The World According to Currier and Ives”.American Studies 35.1 (1994): 131–141. Web…]. The mind behind this particular piece is historian and former dean, Bryan Le Beau, a scholar in the top of their field regarding topics such as the Civil War. Currier & Ives, a famous publishing, began its work in New York before expanding into the business of lithographing images of the Civil War. Le Beau uses many of Currier & Ives images themselves to emboss his key points while elaborating on the history of this publishing company. The main purpose of this article seems to try to capture the history of Currier & Ives and their take on the world in their art. This view, then, would have the audience be those interested in how Currier & Ives developed and how they contributed to American Culture. While having many interesting notes contextually regarding the history of the artist behind the image of interest, there is very little on what I am specifically looking for to speak on length about.

C&I Print 2

Print featured in LeBeau’s piece regarding Currier & Ives

Faust, Drew G. 2001. The Civil War soldier and the art of dying. The Journal of Southern History 67(1): 3-38. The author of this particular article is none other than Drew Faust, president of Harvard University and an expert in the field of American History. The thesis in question revolves around how the Civil War created a death that deviated from “ordinary death”, a death with different meanings that invoked different emotions like no war before it. Faust employs countless statistics, indescribable images, and various quotations to back her point. As a scholarly article, the intended audience would most likely be those interested in the change of both representation and culture that was brought about during this great period of American destruction. I find this article highly useful in augmenting my outlook on historical and cultural contexts, though its focuses make it impractical for my purposes.

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In essence, both sources are highly interesting and scholarly, but only offer small amounts of information that can be useful for the project. Faust has a plethora of different remarks on death and how it developed during the civil war. This information, however, is useless due to the nature of the image planned for the project: “The Soldier Dreams of Home”. Similarly, Le Beau offers many remarks on the development of images and Currier & Ives, but doesn’t offer me information that is pivotal to my work or the image in question. While both articles are scholarly and host ideas and people key to the themes of the civil war, they are useless to me beyond the small tidbits relevant to my ideas.

The Civil War and the Pains of a Soldier

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Citation: Currier & Ives. The Soldier’s Dream of Home. 1861-65. Hand colored Lithograph. Library of Congress, n.p.

We see in the image above a saddening and pitiable sight. A soldier, resting after a day in the midst of a camp, dreams of a home with a wife, a child, and what appears to be his land. All around the resting dreamer are camping tents and soldiers, perhaps also thinking of a life away from the war. The first initial response I could pull from this was certainly hopeful, perhaps even describable as the dream of the common soldier whisked into the forays and the brutalities of war. What better could describe a man clearly yearning for something so far away when he must fight for his country?

In terms of a historical context, this image is obviously a civil war era image. The clothes on the soldier in the foreground and those in the background were commonly seen on union soldiers. The lone cannon in the camp would suggest the depicted unit would most likely be a detachment of a larger infantry regiment. These soldiers also appear to be relaxed, so no major or minor skirmishes seem to be in the foreseeable future or have recently occurred. What all of this equates to is showing that these soldiers were usually just common men who were drafted into a war and could not pay a fee, common people meant to invoke a connectable image with a viewer.

C&I Print

Another example of a Currier and Ives war print

We see several things surrounding this sleeping man, all of which seem to play a role in the symbolic meaning of the piece. The fire that the soldier sleeps by creates a smoke that the dream the soldier is having seems framed by, almost as if to say that the fire represents the life the soldier wants to have going up in flames because of the war. We also see that the soldier is sleeping near both a drum and a gun, meaning that this soldier, in particular, is likely a drummer meant to relay instructions and fight as well, a job of great importance to a soldier. We see various symbols of war lying in the background, including a cannon and fellow soldiers talking. Through these things, we see that this soldier in the foreground is important to the war, but can’t help thinking about the life he has at home and if he even will ever get to have that life.

Its also worth noting that this image is in color and is a “lithograph”, implying that this particular work is most likely a recreated image through a reprinting. This image, then, was probably meant to be reproduced numerous times and spread as propaganda. Furthermore, the fact that a union soldier is dreaming of a better life than fighting in the war makes it clear that this is anti-war propaganda. The artist had the intent of showing that soldiers did not want to be involved with this war, and would rather enjoy a different life with the dream they have in mind. Perhaps this could even be described as the “American Dream” dangling above this sleeping soldier, and the artist wants to make it clear that he will not fulfill it anytime soon because of the war.

Thus, we see the reality that this image brings. It isn’t hopeful as the initial reaction would have us believe. Despair is a much more accurate word. The soldier dreams of the life he wants, but cannot have due to the reality of the war all around them. This soldier, a man charged with ensuring that others can control their forces on the battlefield, cannot even control the events in his life, a man lacking the agency to do anything beyond his task of fighting, killing, and dying.