Cover Image

Larger ImageView Larger


Politicking and Emergent Media

US Presidential Elections of the 1890s

Charles Musser (Author)


Other Formats Available:

Presidential campaigns of the twenty-first century were not the first to mobilize an array of new media forms in efforts to gain electoral victory. In Politicking and Emergent Media, distinguished historian Charles Musser looks at four US presidential campaigns during the long 1890s (1888–1900) as Republicans and Democrats deployed a variety of media forms to promote their candidates and platforms. New York—the crucial swing state as well as the home of Wall Street, Tammany Hall, and prominent media industries—became the site of intense struggle as candidates argued over trade issues, currency standards, and a new overseas empire. If the city’s leading daily newspapers were mostly Democratic as the decade began, Republicans eagerly exploited alternative media opportunities. Using the stereopticon (a modernized magic lantern), they developed the first campaign documentaries. Soon they were exploiting motion pictures, the phonograph, and telephone in surprising and often successful ways. Brimming with rich historical details, Musser’s remarkable tale reveals the political forces driving the emergence of modern media.


1. The Stereopticon, The Tariff Illustrated, and the 1892 Election
Political Oratory, Partisan Pageantry, and the Public Sphere
Judge Wheeler, The Tariff Illustrated, and the 1888 Presidential Election
A Tale of Two Screens: The Democratic Party’s Use of the Stereopticon in 1888
The Stereopticon and the 1892 Election
Watching the Election Returns

2. The Stereopticon: Platform or New Media Form?
A Lexicon of the Screen
From Magic Lantern to Stereopticon: A Brief History
The Stereopticon and Presidential Politics, 1872–1884
3. Cinema, McKinley at Home, and the 1896 Election
The Nation’s Media Formation
The Stereopticon and Illustrated Lecture in the 1896 Campaign
The American Mutoscope Company and the McKinley Campaign
Campaign-Related Films at the Edison Manufacturing Company
A Celebration of Novelty and Tradition, Spectacle and Power
Watching the Election Returns
An Assessment

4. Cinema as a Media Form
When Did Cinema Become Cinema?
Politicking and the Media After the 1896 Presidential Campaign
The Illustrated Lecture, Imperialism, and the Elections of 1898 and 1900

5. Coda
Electoral Politics and the Media
From Early Cinema to Media Archaeology?

Appendix: Referenced Documents
Abbreviations for Frequently Cited Newspapers
Charles Musser is Professor of American Studies and Film and Media Studies at Yale University. He is the author of The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907 and producer of the documentary Errol Morris: A Lightning Sketch.
"Informative... straight-forward, impressively researched, and full of original insight." —Bookforum
"Charles Musser shows how screens first entered American politics. Whether they are true politics junkies or frothing critics of America’s quadrennial horse race, readers will be tickled by the resemblances between presidential campaigns then and now. This is media history of the finest kind, rendered by one of our most accomplished scholars of early cinema."—Lisa Gitelman, New York University, author of Paper Knowledge

"Politicking and Emergent Media is an extraordinary work of historical scholarship, political analysis, and media archaeology. Informed, but not inhibited, by the impact of the Internet and social media on shaping contemporary presidential campaign narratives, Musser not only discovers in the campaigns of the 1890s the active presence of an unexpectedly diverse mediascape comprising illustrated lecture, phonograph, cinema, telegraph, and telephone, but finds already fully in place the disruptive, dispersive, and realigning force of media technologies so typical of American democracy.”—Thomas Elsaesser, author of Film History as Media Archaeology

“In this witty, often amusing, and deeply erudite book, Charles Musser succeeds in denaturalizing breathless contemporary discourse about the newness of emergent technology. It turns out that technology has been newly emerging over the past three centuries, and the performance of politics has long been deeply transformed as a result.”Jeffery Alexander, author of The Performance of Politics: Obama's Victory and the Democratic Struggle for Power

Join UC Press

Members receive 20-40% discounts on book purchases. Find out more