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March 20 , 2009

Traces of Modernity


This book offers critical engagements with four objects from the nineteenth century: The ruins of the Crystal Palace in Sydenham and the dinosaurs that remain, the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens, Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum and the short novel by H.G. Wells – The Time Machine. These provide very different forms of encounter, but are bound by the shadow of the Great Exhibition of 1851.This immense spectacle helped forge our understanding of display, surveillance and commodity. This legacy can be detected in the development of the modern museum and gallery as well as the shaping of spaces and structures of trade, commerce and political display, denying any possibility of conceptually separating these sites. Linked by a cumulative narrative that binds the mid nineteenth century to the early twenty-first, these four objects are identified as formative traces of the past within the present. They provide models for critical thought and suggest answers to the problematic conditions that they present as ideologically specific relics from a previous age.

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