‘As this painting suggests’: The Power and Perspective of the Visual in Law and History

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Journal Article
Law and History, 2013, pp. 1 - 16
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Over ten years ago now Peter Burke, an early-modern European historian, wrote that ‘historians still do not take the evidence of the image seriously enough’, leading others to speak of the ‘invisibility of the visual’ and the ‘condescension towards images’, which this implies. ‘Relatively few historians’, he pointed out, ‘work in photographic archives, compared to the numbers who work in repositories of written and typewritten documents. Relatively few historical journals carry illustrations and when they do, relatively few contributors take advantage of this opportunity.’ 1 This, despite the fact that social historians such as Raphael Samuel in the UK became aware of the value of photographs for exploring ‘history from below’ in the mid- 1960s. 2 Historians had discovered that the visual records of documentary photography were sometimes all they had for the poor and illiterate subjects of social histories. 3 Meanwhile art historians had taken up the challenge to write the social history of art.4 Nevertheless the use of images for historical analysis was confined to a small group of scholars and slow to move into the mainstream
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