The Stereoscope: Experimental Amusement and Speculative Design

19th Century Philosophical Toys and Experimental Amusement
After its introduction in 1838, the stereoscope very quickly became a Victorian amusement, joining a class of “philosophical toys” that provided entertainment through illustrated scientific principles (Silverman 730). Robert Silverman uses the words of Robert Hunt, a British nineteenth century photographic chemist to capture this phenomenon, “The stereoscope is now seen in every drawing room; philosophers talk learnedly upon it, ladies are de-lighted with its magic representations, and children play with it (Silverman 730).” Newspapers and magazines excited “curiosity in their dazzling spectacles” (Silverman 731). These philosophical toys were designed for “the experimental study of natural phenomena, but they could provide amusement, too” (Wade 105). Nicholas Wade examines the relationship between visual art and visual science through the application of early nineteenth century “novel devices” (Wade 102). As Wade describes, these philosophical toys “were usually based on simple optical or visual principles that were expressed in novel ways. Wade looks to the camera, as the first philosophical toy since it was applied to art and science and was “used to capture visual angles by artists, and it was adopted as tool by scientists” (Wade 104). These experiments were toys because they were both adapted for amusement and adopted by the public at large (Wade 108).

Charles Wheatstone and his 1938 Stereoscope
In 1838, Sir Charles Wheatstone published his “Contributions to the Physiology of Vision” where he proposed that the mind registers visual space by combining information from a pair of two-dimensional, monocular pictures, what he called “the interocular discrepancy for binocular space perception” (Silverman 729). Wheatstone was the first to propose that the cognition of visual space was achieved by combining information from a pair of two-dimensional, monocular images (Silverman 729).  Wheatstone further tested these ideas in an apparatus that he called the stereoscope. Two mirrors were mounted in a right angle in order to present the reflection of a one perspective drawing to each eye, thus creating a single perception of three-dimensions.  Each eye sees a different picture of the same thing, but we perceive one (Holmes 4).  Through the stereoscope, surfaces look solid. While there were other techniques that also achieve solidarity, as Oliver Holmes notes, “by this instrument that effect is so heightened as to produce an appearance of reality which cheats the senses with its seeming truth” (4).

The stereoscope simulated depth. Through it, Wheatstone analyzed the factors related to the perception of an approaching object: increases in retinal image size, retinal disparity, convergence and accommodation (Wade 118). Several methods for combining stereo-pairs were introduced. David Brewster’s lenticular version used lenses divided in two. Wheatstone also explored the manipulation of retinal disparity in his pseudoscope, which reversed them. Helmholtz’s telestereoscope exaggerated retinol disparities. There was also the anaglyph method that used overprinted red and green images. Through the stereoscope “the perception of three-dimensional space and apparent motion could be investigated using the tried and tested methods of physics.” Their combination with photographic images gave them enormous popular appeal (Wade 121).

From the Stereoscope and Beyond
Its ability to achieve the illusion of three-dimensionality in photographs and drawings made the stereoscope well suited for exploration of geographies. Simulations could not only present a copy of a physical site, they could reproduce the “experience of travel through illusion” (Stakelon 408). Travel and foreign landscape were consistent themes in stereoviews and the slides themselves were meant to evoke the feeling of movement through space (Stakelon 408). Pauline Stakelon describes these movement citing that, “between the frames, movement from one stereoview to the next becomes another way of experiencing travel and creating a narrative (Stakelon 408).” Because the stereoscope relies on the viewing subjects themselves to create the illusion, the viewer sees an image “that does not exist in outside reality, but rather internally (Stakelon 408).”

The project seeks to explore the fundamental exploitation of monocular images to achieve spatial illusion has potential not just as a physical and optical phenomenon but also as a conceptual apparatus for the play between distinct perspectives that together yield a greater depth of experience.  Together, the body, the viewing device, and the images create a system of relationships that engage notions of embodiment, illusion, perception and representation. I would like work with a physical device and a series of shifting digital images to exploit the principles of stereoview to engage shifting perspectives on materiality (solidness) and “the real”. Engaging Dunne and Raby’s process of speculative design, the project seeks to imagine a stereoscope of the future that engages the possibility of building the dimensionality of experience through multiple images of the same subject, leveraging multiple perspectives.

Idea A / I am one of many who have been here
Stakelon ends with the assertion that “regardless of media specificity, these devices continually reconstruct the idea of what it means to travel through the world” (420). This first idea seeks to examine this further. Using the geolocation of a person (through the device), images of the same location are layered one on top of the other creating a composite image of the specific location that that person occupies. Oliver Holmes posits that the primary focus of these stereoviews is the representation of three-dimensional form, a point with which Pauline Stakelon agrees (Stakelon 411). What if the focus shifts from a sense of dimensionality that is “realistic” to one that attempts to capture the collective experience of a place?

Idea B / A stereoscope for two
Nineteenth century stereoscopes explored the vision and perception of a single pair of eyes. What if we consider the stereoscope of two simultaneous viewers? There could be a central plane for stereoviews that two distinct viewers can see from opposite positions. The apparatus becomes a device to connect. Perhaps what viewer B sees relates to viewer A personally, and vice versa.

Idea C / A full body stereoscope
Can the stereoscope engage more of the body (physically)? The emphasis on the optical has resulted in forms for the stereoscope (and technologies that stem from it) that are focused on the eyes. If we consider the stereoscope as a device for senses in addition to vision and an apparatus that physically engages more of the body. What if the stereoscope covers the entire body? What if the representations are not just visual?



  1. Brewster, David. The Stereoscope; Its History, Theory and Construction, with Its Application to the Fine and Useful Arts and to Education, Etc. John Murray, 1856.
  2. Dunne, Anthony, and Fiona Raby. Speculative everything: design, fiction, and social dreaming. MIT press, 2013.
  3. Harris, Charles B. “The Stereo View”: Politics and the Role of the Reader in Gain.” Review of Contemporary Fiction, vol. 18, no. 3, Fa
  4. ll, 1998, pp. 97-108. ProQuest,
  5. Holmes, Oliver Wendell. “The stereoscope and the stereograph.” Atlantic Monthly20 (1859).
  6. Silverman, Robert J. “The stereoscope and photographic depiction in the 19th century.” Technology and Culture (1993): 729-756.
  7. Stakelon, Pauline. “Travel Through the Stereoscope: Movement and narrative in topological stereoview collections of Europe.” Media History, vol. 16, no. 4, 2010, pp. 407–422.
  8. Wade, Nicholas J. “Philosophical instruments and toys: Optical devices extending the art of seeing.” Journal of the History of the Neurosciences1 (2004): 102-124.
  9. Wade, Nicholas J. “Charles Wheatstone (1802–1875).” (2002): 265-272.



Green-Book: “The Afrofuturistic Guide to Future USA”

Historical Methodology: 

When Victor Greene began publishing the Green-Book in 1936 the goal was to provide Black Travelers with resources for local businesses across the United States, and later globally. For many African Americans traveling in Jim Crow south meant experiencing segregation and being fear of personal safety. Victor’s Green- Book offered a list of business that catered toward Blacks during that time. The 21st century has brought to light these questions of safe spaces after recent racial profiling that have led to shootings of unharmed Black individuals (Herron 1). The goal of this project is to create a digital afrofuturistic Green-Book for Black people in the future(50 years from now).

The project will incorporate Afrofuturism a principle that uses the past and present to inform the future for Blacks. By Remediating the Green-Book for the digital era, I hope to bring back these questions of what does it mean for spaces to be safe for Blacks in the future. In this paper, I will focus on a historical survey to revitalize the Greenbook in a digital form. The historical approach will include Afrofuturism, archival, and analysis of primary objects. I also plan to demonstrate preliminary sketches and concepts of the project.

The Afrofuturism approach comes from theorist and writer Kodwo Eshun’s paper “Further Considerations of Afrofuturism” which describes the various influences that artist, writers, musicians have attributed to the field. Eshun states, “Taking its cue from this ‘dual nature’ of the ‘critical and utopian,’ and Afrofuturist art project might work on the exposure and reframing of futurisms that act to forecast and fix African dystopia” (93). The quote notes that two elements are essential in creating art projects that better predict Blacks in the future they include, exposure and reframing. I intend to use the concepts of exposure and reframe as a framework that will extend beyond Eshun’s principles to take into account the cultural significance of the Green-Book and to structure the future society I envision.

The purpose of exposure is to understand the historical benefits that the artifact had on a particular community. It also means to bring to the forefront what this means to the future of Black spaces in the physical and digital realm. During, the exposure process archival work also occurs. In the project, I will be working with the archivist at the Auburn Avenue Research Library (AARL) the primer library in the southeast that offers cultural and historical information on African Americans. AARL has a digital copy of the Green Book with the help of an archivist I will be making a note of the locations, advertisements, places listed in the book, and the form and organization. The goal is that speaking with an archivist will point to the materials and components that made the structure and content of the book useful in offering Blacks with safe spaces. Yoruba Richen has recently released a documentary titled The Green Book: Guide to Freedom that will provide detail on personal accounts of the books. The film and meetings with archivists will be useful in presenting a form of information that will challenge traditional norms and present information in a structure that can better address and tackle the needs of people of color. In using the concept of exposure I also plan to extend it to remember and bring forth personal narratives that discuss its cultural impact to communities.

The second method is reframing, which takes the concept that we have exposed the artifact and now it must be repositioned and placed in an alternate future in a Black lens. Lisa Yaszek’s paper “Race in Science Fiction: The Case of Afrofuturism” explores how Afrofuturism allows Black authors the ability to explore racial issues through a science perspective. Yaszek states, “Afrofuturist artists are interested in recovering lost Black histories and thinking about how those histories inform a whole range of Black cultures today”(2). This statement demonstrates that reframing is a way of reclaiming these artifacts and helps to create a future through a Black lens.

Extending upon the work of Eshun it will consider how Blacks can retell stories that challenge what societal structures have meant. Reframing the Green Book will present a way to understand better how this past artifact can be used to inform future communities. The methodology of exposure and reframe is not only essential in remediating the object, but it also allows for an approach that is rooted in Black narratives.

Preliminary Sketches: 

The preliminary sketches show the interface of an interactive book. The book will be in a digital form inspired by Kindle and other media books. I plan to add a style and interface design that pulls from Afrofuturistic art concepts and is speculative in its approach. I played with various formats of how the book would structure in the future. I based this on my readings from the future of the book website, which includes detail in how people envision books.

Works Cited: 

Eshun, Kodwo. “Further Considerations of Afrofuturism.” CR: The New Centennial Review, vol. 3, no. 2, 2003, pp. 287–302., doi:10.1353/ncr.2003.0021.

Herron, Rachael. “‘I Used to Be a 911 Dispatcher. I Had to Respond to Racist Calls Every Day.”.”, Vox Media, 31 Oct. 2018,

“Institute for the Future of the Book.” Institute for the Future of the Book,

Womack, Ytasha. Afrofuturism: The World of Black SCI-FI and Fantasy Culture. Lawrence Hill Books, 2013.

Yaszek,  Lisa. “Afrofuturism, science fiction, and the history of the future.” Socialism and Democracy, vol 20, no.3, 2010, pp 41-60

Yaszek, Lisa. “Race in Science Fiction: The case of Afrofuturism.”  A Virtual Introduction to Science Fiction, 2012. 



A Historical Analysis of the zoetrope, an ignored history of the past and the future 

Zhong Hu  


This article examines the historical context of zoetrope through its application in various forms and early media artifacts. This article will focus on how people experience zoetrope and study it as a historical object as the author dives into the examples of early ignored history of zoetrope artifacts, the then developed cylinder zoetrope, and recent practice after 1900 that brought a new perspective. 

In pairing these examples, the author offers a historical survey of zoetrope in chronological order that expresses the notion of media as an archeological subject. The central idea from this article is to explore the old artifacts with a fresh view angle. 



I interpret media as an extension of ourselves to enrich our otherwise limited information bandwidth. Drawing an analogy between the martial arts and the media, both methods accept external tools as an extension to sense the outside environment with belief in enriching human beings current experience. For example, the swords, the sticks, and many more weapons function as an outreach of the arms to probe the opponents. More importantly, while the martial arts only takes physical tools for such expansion, our expertise in media can go beyond with both physical and digital experience combined. Evolving from its physical form, our media devices have this magic power of transcending the form and incorporating much more diverse content. It has been manifested on many media forms such as telegraphs, kinescope, and recently the VR that not only have a physical form one could interact with, they also have a gigantic collection of virtual content. However,  zoetrope predates these latecomers.  For decades, people have tried this through endless effort in which I shall illustrate in the example of Zoetrope. The term, zoetrope, is a relatively new term that was not invented until 19 century when British inventor William Horner needed a name for his device, but the earliest documented zoetrope was found in China. 

Because one of the underlying premises of this article is that zoetrope could not be considered separately from its origin and social background, the section one starts off by exploring some of the expressive arts that precede it briefly before diving into the distinct environment that gave birth to zoetrope in China in the 11 century. It will review traditions of visual storytelling that flourished centuries before the zoetrope appeared. 

The zoetrope stayed mostly unchanged until the 18 century when the shadow play was introduced into European cities such as Paris and London. Section two will illustrate the process of rediscovering zoetrope in the period. The shadow play inspired scientists explored the scientific mechanism of the zoetrope. The modern zoetrope began to develop in London in the mid-nineteenth century. William George Horner, a Cambridge mathematician, rediscovered the importance and gave the name of the zoetrope. 

Section three will shift the focus on the heyday of zoetrope in its cylinder form in the late 19 and the early 20 century. The zoetrope may have been neglected because it was later subsumed into other forms of media while some other distinctive forms retained their identities.   And finally, the late appearance of the zoetrope in recent history was its usage in subway media where the cylinder form has evolved into a linear form. The subway zoetrope’s apparatus, its relationships to the audience, and its role in the public sphere has changed significantly. 



The central question of zoetrope changed with the emergence of technology evolution. 

[lantern -> cylinder zoetrope – > Improved version of zoetrope – > linear ] 

Section 1 

The origin of zoetrope in China and its later development as military communication and civil entrainment devices. The ignored history of the zoetrope. 


  1. Illustrate the unconnected nature of China and the world before the silk road. 
  2. Describe the scene of 上元节 in the Song Dynasty, the lantern festival happened during the first month of the lunar calendar where zoetrope was the leading character of such a splendid festival. 
  3. Describe the zoetrope itself as a moving movie without sound or closed captions. The movement set itself apart from other still media devices. 
  4. Extend the arguments to discuss its importance through its military and civil application and discuss why it was not recognized by others at that time. 

Main Reference  

[0] Youtube Video 


[2]  Xijing Zaji, 西京杂记

[3]  Qing yi lu, 清异录

Section 2 

The silk road introduced the essence of the zoetrope, the shadow play, to the western world in the late 18 century where early scientists adopted and reformatted the zoetrope by studying its science theory. 


1. Mathematician Horner discovered 

Main Reference 

[1] William Horner

[2] Enticknap, L.D.G. (2005). Moving Image Technology: From Zoetrope to Digital. Wallflower. 

Section 3

The new zoetrope evolves into a linear form underground that challenges people’s perception in moving images. Avant designers made various of design projects that utilizing the space 


Main Reference 



Main Reference 

[1] Enticknap, L.D.G. (2005). Moving Image Technology: From Zoetrope to Digital. Wallflower. 

[2] Erkki Huhtamo.  (2013). illusions in Motion Media Archaeology of the Moving. MIT Press.






Jamais Vu: A HistorioGraphic Adventure Game


There is perhaps no incident of early cinematic apocrypha more well-known than that of the Paris premiere of L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat at the Salon Indien du Grand Café on December 28, 1895. The film, produced and directed by brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière, is said to have incited incited panic in its unsuspecting audience, who were convinced that the image of the oncoming train was seconds from running off its tracks and straight into the crowded salon. Maxim Gorky, a Russian journalist who reported on a screening of the same film in Nizhny Novgorod, describes—in language commensurate to the alleged terror—how the arriving train “seems as though it will plunge into the darkness in which you sit, turning you into a ripped sack full of lacerated flesh and splintered bones, and crushing into dust and into broken fragments this hall and this building” (408). It is nearly impossible, today, for a modern audience to watch the film and not consider at once the magical charm of antiquated cinema alongside the quaint image of public alarm in the face what now appears as a totally benign non-event.

Scholars have more or less closed the book on the veracity of this familiar story. Not only is there scant record of such a panic—and what newspaper could resist such a story—but evidence suggests that the film may not have even been part of the program at all on that famous December evening. Nevertheless, the imagined event remains pervasive. “While the fear and panic of the audience facing Lumière’s locomotive is retold in the form of an anecdote,” writes film scholar Martin Loiperdinger, “its status reaches much higher: reiterated over and over again, it figures as the founding myth of the medium, testifying to the power of film over its spectators” (93). My project is an attempt to reenvision this mythic foundation of cinema in a digital environment and to complicate its status through an exploration of anachronistic historical, historiographical, critical, theoretical, and poetic perspectives on spectacle and spectatorship.

The working title of this project is Jamais Vu—French for “never seen.” Psychologically speaking, jamais vu is the inverted counterpart of the more widely recognized déjà vu. It refers to a simultaneous and irreconcilable sense of recognition and unfamiliarity. In one sense, the title is a pun on both the French origins of the incident in question and the common understanding that, even in light of earlier, more primitive examples of projected moving images, few members of the audience at the Grand Café would have ever seen anything quite like the Lumière’s innovative showing. In another sense, Jamais Vu encapsulates the more particular historiographical approach of this project. By anachronistically suffusing a representation of what is, to many, a well-known apocryphal event with carefully selected texts gathered thematically and synchronically from various historical and theoretical writings, I hope to create an experience that is constituted from the very critical discourse with which it implicates itself—a work that negotiates no clear consensus between estrangement and reconciliation.

Generically, Jamais Vu will most likely take the form of a retro-style graphic adventure game. (“HistorioGraphic,” at the very least, affords the opportunity to make another pun.) The environment of the salon at the Grand Café will be represented in two-dimensions, with simple pixel-based art assets. This is intended both as a visual reference to the genre’s forebears (see the classic Lucasarts adventure games, for instance) and also to develop an impressionistic style which leaves room for an emphasis on textual elements. Players will control a protagonist character whose personal history will be predefined by the narrative of the game, but whose responses to other characters may be influenced by player choice. At the moment, the game’s protagonist is an established socialite whose reputation in Paris society has recently been strained on account of the sudden, mysterious death of her shall-we-say distant husband. The establishment of a defined protagonist is important to the historiographic project of Jamais Vu so as to best allow for the anchoring of the more fantastical, experimental elements of the experience to a more down-to-earth, human story—however tongue-in-cheek it may end up being.


The player will guide this protagonist through the scene of the salon, interacting with various other characters along the way: a bartender, a wealthy businessman, a few close friends, or an engineer making last-minute adjustments to the cinematograph itself. These conversations will take the general form of a dialogue interspersed with snippets of text taken from the works listed below in the “Works Cited” section. I intend to gather quotations which, when set one against another, give the impression a continuous conversation, despite the temporal, geographic, and disciplinary differences that may otherwise preclude their authors’ conversation—a collage, or rather montage, of theory. One character may implore: “The show’s about to start, let’s head to our seats.” Another may respond: “Being a spectator is not some passive condition that we should transform into activity. It is our normal situation” (Rancière, 17). Then a third may chime in: “Thus the spectacle, though it turns reality on its head, is itself a product of real activity” (Debord, 14). The player would have the opportunity to respond in kind, given a few different choices of possibilities. Of course, all citation would not appear until the completion of the experience, so as to elide as much of a distinction of discourse as possible.

By the end of the experience, the Lumière’s train will indeed have burst through the screen and into the crowd. It is this part, at present, that remains least defined. The game perhaps might shift into a top-down action game, through which the player must navigate their avatar around the path of a ricocheting locomotive in order to knock over the still projecting cinematograph. Or the player may have to conquer some final puzzle which would require certain information or items gathered before the climax in order to save the day. I’m honestly not sure. Nonetheless, at this point, the climax appears somewhat less historiographically charged than what most likely will come before—although this is something, too, that remains up in the air. For the purposes of this prototyping stage, I hope to have a mostly completed version of Part One of the game, with all relevant historiographic dialogue in place and the necessary visuals and sound to accompany it.



Works Cited

Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, Zone Books, 1994.

Elcott, Noam M.. Artificial Darkness an Obscure History of Modern Art and Media. University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Elsaesser, Thomas, and Adam. Barker. Early Cinema : Space, Frame, Narrative. BFI Publishing, 1990.

Gorky, Maxim. “The Lumiere Cinematograph.” Nizhegorodski listok, newspaper, 4 July 1896. Translated by Leda Swan. Reproduced in Kino, a History of the Russian and Soviet Film, by Jay Leyda. Macmillan, 1960.

Hansen, Miriam. Babel and Babylon Spectatorship in American Silent Film. Harvard University Press, 1991.

Huhtamo, Erkki. Illusions in Motion Media Archaeology of the Moving Panorama and Related Spectacles. MIT Press, 2013.

Loiperdinger, Martin. “Lumiere’s Arrival of the Train: Cinema’s Founding Myth.” Translated by Bernd Elzer. The Moving Image, vol. 4, no. 1, 2004, pp. 89–118. Crossref, doi:10.1353/mov.2004.0014.

Lumière, Auguste, and Louis Lumière, directors. L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat. Société Lumière, 1895.

Mekas, Jonas. Movie Journal : the Rise of the New American Cinema, 1959-1971. Columbia University Press, 2016.

Rancière, Jacques. The Emancipated Spectator. Translated by Gregory Elliott, Verso, 2009.

Scorsese, Martin, director. Hugo. Paramount Pictures, 2011.

Staiger, Janet. Perverse Spectators: The Practices of Film Reception. New York University Press, 2000.

Strauven, Wanda. The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded. Amsterdam University Press, 2006.

Yong, Ed. “This Speck of DNA Contains a Movie, a Computer Virus, and an Amazon Gift Card.” The Atlantic, 2 March 2017,