The Physiognotrace of 1802: A New Democratic Self-Portrait Machine

In our age, we assume that “new media” is the latest digital means to improve communication, accessibility, and functionality in our lives. We expect that this new media will replace the old, making it obsolete. But the book New Media: 1740-1915 explores new media that are now old, and the meanings that are imbued within these media. The second chapter, “Heads of State: Profiles and Politics in Jeffersonian America,” by Wendy Bellion, examines the development of a new artistic and visual medium, the physiognotrace.[1] The physiognotrace was a silhouette-making machine that an individual could operate without assistance to trace his or her own profile.

“Explanation of Mr. J. I. Hawkin’s Physiognotrace,” drawn by Charles Wilson Peale for Thomas Jefferson, 1803

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