Every year, a staggering five million visitors flock to the Grand Canyon to view its sweeping vistas. One of the most remarkable wonders of the natural world, the Grand Canyon has become a symbol of the American West—its Indian heritage, its pioneer spirit, its sublime beauty. It is one of the most photographed landmarks in America, and one of its earliest photographers was Henry G. Peabody.
In 1879, Peabody, a member of both the Chicago Electrical Society and the Chicago Photographic Society, was the first to use electricity to project lantern slides, becoming a father of the modern slideshow. Recognizing an opportunity to promote migration and tourism, western railroads and postcard companies hired Peabody to document the natural beauty of the American frontier. Awed by its exotic landscape, Peabody turned his collection of photographs into an audio-visual slideshow that enabled thousands of people from Boston to Chicago and beyond to experience a mode of vicarious travel through electricity, sound, and photography.
Peabody's original slideshow was possible only through advances in 19th-century technology, so it is a particularly fitting subject for this groundbreaking 21st-century digital-born, interactive scholarly publication. Originating from the Spatial History Project within the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford, Nicholas Bauch's Enchanting the Desert is a careful examination of Henry Peabody's early-twentieth-century slideshow of the Grand Canyon. By placing this study within the spatial framework of the Canyon itself, and embellishing Peabody's slideshow with rich overlays created through GIS mapping and virtual recreations of the canyon topography, Bauch has created a digital prototype for studying historical and cultural geography.
Enchanting the Desert also includes 80 essays on human geographical aspects of the Canyon, ranging from Native American habitation and names, through the physical hurdles overcome by Peabody as he created the slideshow, to the consequences of the image choices Peabody made on future access and tourism within the canyon.
The result of deep archival research in the Huntington Library, employing the traditional tools of the historian and geographer, Bauch raises and answers questions only a born-digital project could make possible, and reveals a previously hidden geography of a landmark that has come to define the American West.
About the author
Nicholas Bauch is Geographer-in-Residence at Stanford University.
"Enchanting the Desert is innovative and important and will provide a template that other studies that make use of images of landscapes will critique and follow. There are thousands of books of photographs of the Grand Canyon, however this product is able to achieve things that simply could not be done as a traditional book through both the use of high quality images and the ways in which they and the accompanying text and maps have been integrated."
—Ian Gregory, Lancaster University
"Enchanting the Desert is poised to make a significant contribution not only to the Humanities fields within which it is rooted, but also to the Digital Humanities for its research methodologies alone. The author's research has the potential to lead to the development of new geo-spatial imaging technologies for use by scholars such as historians and geographers as well as practitioners such as cartographers or filmmakers."
—Anne Burdick, Art Center College of Design