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Charles Colbert

Charles Colbert received his Ph.D. in Art History from Harvard University and has taught at Middlebury College, Boston College, and Brandeis University. He presently teaches at Portland State University (Portland, OR). In addition to many articles on American art of the nineteenth century, he has published two books: A Measure of Perfection: Phrenology and the Fine Arts in America (University of North Carolina Press, 1997) and Haunted Visions: Spiritualism and American Art (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).  Colbert’s focus on phrenology and Spiritualism involves beliefs that were widely popular in the Victorian age but have been largely neglected by modern scholarship. Both systems maintained that the spiritual world interpenetrated the material and that individuals familiar with the discipline could recognize this relationship. This sort of transcendentalism diverged considerably from that espoused by the Concord philosophers, but it attracted artists because its claim to identify the workings of spirit in the physical environment enabled them to render images that engaged the deepest aspirations of contemporaries. Art assisted in the search for natural laws that extended from this world to the next. By studying these developments, we understand more comprehensively how deeply issues of faith informed the era’s visual culture.

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