Work Cited Episode 6: Caucasian War and the Remaking of Vision in America, with Sarah Lewis


Wednesday, March 31, 2021, 1:00pm to 2:00pm


Virtual via registration

"Work/Cited is a new program series that showcases the latest scholarship supported by the rich collections of The New York Public Library with a behind-the-scenes look at how the finished product was inspired, researched, and created.

In this episode, NYPL's Ian Fowler will be joined by Dr. Sarah Lewis. Drawn from her forthcoming manuscript  Caucasian War: Race and the Remaking of Vision in America (Harvard University Press, 2022) this talk will provide an overview of the book and discuss the chapter, “Mapping the Caucasus” based on research done in the NYPL’s Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division

Race changed sight in America. It is a paradox: the use of race as a hierarchical system of regard and perception fundamentally altered the mechanics of vision itself. The fact is now so accepted, so practiced that it can now seem unremarkable, imperceptible, and difficult to identify, isolate, and observe. We see this most clearly through a moment that few discuss, let alone know—that there was a time in the nineteenth century when Americans were focused on the visual narratives coming out of this region that we know of as the Caucasus—the region from which we receive the term Caucasian for whiteness—at the end of the Caucasian War (1817-1864). The news about the faraway Caucasus created confusion as the coverage revealed that the region was nothing like the pure-white image put forth by racial science. It was a time when American society could see the fault lines of racial construction, the fictions underneath the entire structure of racial categorization and whiteness and found a shared language through which to press on. It turned the act of perception into one of construction, sight into a process of assessment and assembly, what Woodrow Wilson would term the “constructive imagination,” a form of seeing that he argued would define and emerge to legitimate and describe the racialized world.


Join us for the scoop on the newest scholarship, the research process, and the Library's resources.  Each episode takes place online, with 30-45 minutes of lively conversation followed by audience Q&A."