The lecture-brokers: the role of impresarios and agencies in the global Anglophone circuit for lantern lecturing, 1850-1920
Date: 23 December 2019
Early Popular Visual Culture
Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
The lantern lecturing business diversified in a number of ways in the second half of the nineteenth century. At the bottom end of one kind of cultural scale were individuals that we now might think of as ‘citizen-scientists’ (or citizen-litterateurs, -travellers, -art historians, - church historians, -entertainers &c.), who were ...
The lantern lecturing business diversified in a number of ways in the second half of the nineteenth century. At the bottom end of one kind of cultural scale were individuals that we now might think of as ‘citizen-scientists’ (or citizen-litterateurs, -travellers, -art historians, - church historians, -entertainers &c.), who were often to be found filling schedules within local literary and mechanics’ institutes, or, as these organisations gradually declined between the 1850s and 1890s, within museums, libraries, or local history and photographic societies. By contrast, the business of ‘popular lecturers’ – of speakers who could be relied upon to fill venues wherever they travelled – was a fully commercialised concern: theirs was a market increasingly dominated by discourses of celebrity; they tended to visit not only the usual run of lecturing institutes but also major town halls, theatres, and concert halls, and they frequently embarked on both national and international tours, a scale of enterprise that usually necessitated a support network comprising lecture agencies, managers, and impresarios. This article considers the work of three such agencies, whose networks incorporated much of the Anglophone world for over five decades: Major James Pond’s lecture bureau in the United States, Gerald Christy’s Lecture Agency in Britain, and R.S. and Carlyle Smythe’s lecture management business, which stretched from South Africa to New Zealand. Beginning by tracing the emergence of centralised popular lecturing systems in the United States and Britain from the 1850s, the article then discusses the emergence and consolidation of these three businesses between the 1860s and 1920s, arguing that they should be regarded as key mobilisers of the global trade in celebrity lantern lecturing. The article describes for the first time the global foundations for the top end of the lantern business, and for lecturing practices that would come to be regarded as high status across international lantern cultures.
College of Humanities
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