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DSI Lecture Series | The “Great White Way”: Photography and America’s White Imaginary

Carolyn Kane in Conversation with Lida Zeitlin-Wu
Tuesday, October 24, 2023
3:00-4:30 PM
Multipurpose Room (Room 1040) LSA Building Map
In the twenty-first century, large-scale media spectacles are ubiquitous in cities around the world. These polychromatic spectacles offer a diversity of colors and scintillating delights, though they fail to acknowledge––by their very design––how they also perpetuate historically entrenched legacies of chromophobia. This talk responds to this odd contradiction by leaping backwards in time, to analyze the tensions and power struggles in the history of illuminated light in the American city in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries. The polemic between old world (European) whiteness and the explosive colors that mark America's twentieth-century “white imaginary” are charted through an archaeological critique of early advertising, photography, and the development of electric palettes for large-scale illuminated signs. By zeroing in on the “White City” at Chicago’s 1893 Columbian World’s Fair, and New York City’s “Great White Way” in the 1910s-1930s, I argue that a new training ground was forged for the American subject, engendering a unique brand of spectatorship rooted in visual possession by way of spectacle-based consumption.

Carolyn L. Kane is the author of Electrographic Architecture: New York Color, Las Vegas Light, and America’s White Imaginary (University of California Press, 2023); High-Tech Trash: Glitch, Noise, and Aesthetic Failure (University of California Press, 2019) and Chromatic Algorithms: Synthetic Color, Computer Art, and Aesthetics After Code (University of Chicago Press, 2014). More information can be found here:

Lida Zeitlin-Wu is a DISCO Network Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Michigan's Digital Studies Institute. She is a scholar of media, race, and visual culture whose work explores the rationalization of sensory experience and selfhood under techno-capitalism. Her book project, Seeing by Numbers, tells the story of how something as subjective and ephemeral as color came to be seen as standardized. She received her PhD in Film & Media from UC Berkeley in 2022. More info can be found at

We want to make our events accessible to all participants. This event will be a hybrid event with both a physical meeting space and an online meeting space.

Please register in advance for the online Zoom Webinar here:

Please register for the physical meeting space at the University of Michigan’s Central Campus:

CART will be provided. If you anticipate needing accommodations to participate, please email Eric Mancini at Please note that some accommodations must be arranged in advance and we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.
Building: LSA Building
Event Type: Lecture / Discussion
Tags: Architecture, Art, digital, digital humanities, Digital Studies, Digital Studies Institute, History
Source: Happening @ Michigan from Digital Studies Institute, History of Art, A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning

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