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Magic, Illusion and Detection at the Turn of the Last Century




O'Malley, Michael

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Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media


Website for a history course at George Mason University. This course explored two simultaneous tendencies in American life at the turn of the last century. On the one hand, the rise of industrialization made Americans fascinated with personal transformation--with self making, with economic mobility, and with the possibility of changing your place in life. This new, modern world highlighted the difference between the real and the fake. In an age of mass copies and new identities, how could you tell the genuine, honest man from the con man? As much as they loved magic and personal transformation, Americans of this era loved detection, and the wide range of new techniques--like fingerprints, mug shots, and criminology generally--designed to pin identity down. The course focused on this simultaneous, contradictory fascination with both self transformation and with stabilizing identity. The course made extensive use of this game-like website, which was designed to reproduce some of the ambiguities of historical research itself. Former URL: chnm.gmu.edu/courses/magic/.


The WARC file must be opened using a program like Webrecorder.io. The ZIP contains a static version of the website.


Digital history, Pedagogy