Doctor of Philosophy
Art and Visual Culture
This dissertation uses the visual history of Niagara Falls to argue that iconic touristic landscapes promising Sublime moments can benefit from embracing their often-eclectic mixture of images, experiences, artefacts, and small-scaled private collectors and collections. This study takes up two distinct areas of Niagara’s visual history; how the site is depicted and copied, and how the site is collected and memorialized. The natural site, charted through attractions, themed environments, souvenirs and amateur home collections, is an apparatus that generates everlasting spectacle. Niagara’s current attractions connect the earliest physical encounters of the site with contemporary experiences along tourist corridors, bridging the void between eighteenth-century European landscape aesthetics and contemporary discourses of eco-criticism and sustainability. Wax museums draw on the desire to copy, commemorate, and recreate iconic places and settings, embracing the inherent spectacle of sites like Niagara Falls and redirecting it towards commercial and entrepreneurial gain. Souvenirs, mementoes, postcards, and other ephemera help memorialize visits to places like Niagara Falls, demonstrating that personalized experiences can occur at iconic tourist destinations. Amateur collectors, and their smaller-scaled private collections, illustrate that the eclectic visual histories of sites are preserved in the homes of its visitors, rather than larger-scaled accessioned collections of public institutions. This project concludes with an echo of the introduction, which attempts to establish an updated understanding of the Sublime that embraces eclectic and sometimes disparate visual examples.
Summary for Lay Audience
This dissertation explores the assortment of attractions, themed environments, images, souvenirs, house museums and amateur collections surrounding Niagara Falls to better understand why popular sites like Niagara Falls are continuously visited by tourists and locals. Niagara Falls is widely credited as an example of a Sublime landscape. The concept/notion of the Sublime is an aesthetic theory from eighteenth and nineteenth century philosophy that represents the grandeur, scale, and power of the natural environment. Sublime landscapes are also notable for their ability to inspire wide-ranging sensations of fear, exaltation, wonderment, and awe. Although Sublime sites can become popular places to visit, they run the risk of losing their ability to inspire personal and emotional responses through practices of mass-production and over-commercialization. This study argues that sites like Niagara Falls can still contribute to notions of the Sublime through the examination of current eclectic visual and experiential examples and drawing parallel examples from the past. This project proposes that the network of small-scale and private collections of images and artefacts that surround the Niagara region uphold and preserve the peculiar visual history of the site. Lastly, this project attempts to establish an updated understanding of the Sublime that actively embraces the diverse, yet sometimes disparate, visual examples of the natural environment.
de Lazzer, Sonya M., "The Visual Culture of Niagara Falls: From Kitsch to Keepsake" (2023). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 9807.
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