A World in Motion: Travelers and Tourists in Ben-Hur

On Thursday, September 12, Dr. Howard Miller returned to discuss “A World in Motion: Travelers and Tourists in Ben-Hur” on September 12, 2019. His talk was at 7 p.m. in the Carriage House Interpretive Center.

Travelers and Tourists in Ben-Hur

Throughout 2017 and 2018, Dr. Miller delivered a series of lectures on the adaptation history of Ben-Hur. In these lectures, he emphasized the growing importance of home, homecoming, and family in that tradition. This year’s focus on travel in the life and works of the Wallaces has caused him to re-examine some of his original perceptions of the novel itself. The September talk concluded his series of lectures on Ben-Hur and its impact on American culture.

Throughout the novel, many of the characters are travelers. Judah travels around the Mediterranean as a galley slave. Sheik Ilderim lives a nomadic existence. The magi travel to find the baby born under the star; Balthasar and his daughter Iras continue traveling. Judah plays the tourist when he visits the Grove of Daphne in Antioch. Dr. Miller discusses these travels in light of the German bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, and sheds new light on a fascinating aspect of the novel.

Dr. Miller illustrated his lecture on tourists with slides from the Study’s collection. These slides comprise the first major adaptation of Ben-Hur–a 1896 magic lantern series made and promoted illegally by English company Riley Brothers, Inc.

Magic Lantern Shows

The forerunner of the slide projector, the “magic lantern” used at least one set of lenses and a light source to illuminate and project scenes. These scenes were usually photographed and then hand-painted. A good projectionist could advance the scenes so quickly that they seemed almost to move. Magic lanterns shows were, in fact, the earliest “moving pictures.” They were sold for both commercial use in theaters and for use as family entertainment in the homes.

The Riley Brothers set included 72 glass slides and a printed narration, called an “epitome,” which related Wallace’s “tale of the Christ” by either quoting from Ben-Hur or condensing in its own words the plot of the story. F.W. Weeks painted the first two-dozen slides. His scenes tended to be very ornate, quite colorful, and rather dramatic. A female artist named Nannie Preston painted he majority of the slides; her style style was simpler and more restrained.

Future Programming

Dr. Miller’s lecture serves as background to the lecture on September 26, by Ms. Linda Witkowski, a painting conservator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. That lecture, entitled “Madame Lucinda’s Magic Lantern Show,” will trace the history of the magic lantern tradition and will be illustrated in part by the Riley Brothers slides of Ben-Hur.

This lecture is made possible through a grant from Indiana Humanities in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as a grant from the Montgomery County Community Foundation.

You can also view Dr. Miller’s other Ben-Hur lectures on our website here.

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