Illusions in Motion

From Leonardo

Illusions in Motion

Media Archaeology of the Moving Panorama and Related Spectacles

By Erkki Huhtamo

Tracing the cultural, material, and discursive history of an early manifestation of media culture in the making.





Tracing the cultural, material, and discursive history of an early manifestation of media culture in the making.

Beginning in the late eighteenth century, huge circular panoramas presented their audiences with resplendent representations that ranged from historic battles to exotic locations. Such panoramas were immersive but static. There were other panoramas that moved—hundreds, and probably thousands of them. Their history has been largely forgotten. In Illusions in Motion, Erkki Huhtamo excavates this neglected early manifestation of media culture in the making. The moving panorama was a long painting that unscrolled behind a “window” by means of a mechanical cranking system, accompanied by a lecture, music, and sometimes sound and light effects. Showmen exhibited such panoramas in venues that ranged from opera houses to church halls, creating a market for mediated realities in both city and country.

In the first history of this phenomenon, Huhtamo analyzes the moving panorama in all its complexity, investigating its relationship to other media and its role in the culture of its time. In his telling, the panorama becomes a window for observing media in operation. Huhtamo explores such topics as cultural forms that anticipated the moving panorama; theatrical panoramas; the diorama; the "panoramania" of the 1850s and the career of Albert Smith, the most successful showman of that era; competition with magic lantern shows; the final flowering of the panorama in the late nineteenth century; and the panorama's afterlife as a topos, traced through its evocation in literature, journalism, science, philosophy, and propaganda.


$55.00 X ISBN: 9780262018517 464 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 120 b&w illus.


  • I would like to start with two indirect words of praise....for the author, not because he knows his subject so well and is able to communicate his knowledge in such a pleasant and convincing way (after all, this is what can be expected from any serious scholar), but for the love and passion that he has put in his research, and which are visible in every page in this book. No great scholarship without deep personal commitment, and of this statement as well Huhtamo's book is a great example. True, love and passion do not necessarily make great books, but great books become even greater if they take their origin in the author's fascination and awe (for it is not only the sublime and art with capital A, or death and horror, that may fill us with awe)...Chapter 7, for instance, on the career of Albert Smith, a moving panorama showman who was a celebrity in the 1850s, should be compulsory reading for all media historians, literary students, film scholars, as well as for all those who major or minor in marketing, business administration, and the creative industries.

    Jan Baetans

    Leonardo Online

  • I can think of no other single volume which both documents—with care and precision—and explains, with such clarity and lively engagement—this central aspect of the visual culture of the nineteenth century.

    Arctic Book Review

  • In addition to filling in the gaps in knowledge plaguing this forgotten medium, Huhtamo's diligence in excavating the moving panorama in Illusions in Motion also provides historians and theorists with a map for traversing the new media landscape.

    Film Quarterly

  • The role of moving panoramas in the birth of media culture should not be underestimated. This seminal volume does much to restore them to their rightful place in the history of visual culture.

    Jeffrey Mifflin

    Early Popular Visual Culture

  • The book will be immediately canonical for scholars of visual culture, cinema, and media studies, and will also be valuable to scholars of literature, American studies, and 19th-century history...Huhtamo has replaced a relative silence on the moving panorama with a strong statement that realigns dominant narratives about the history of visual culture and demonstrates a powerful methodology for cinema and media studies. It will stand as a lasting contribution and inexhaustible source for future scholarship.

    Brooke Belisle

    Journal of Visual Culture

  • Illusions in Motion guides the reader through the myriad of mediated realities across continents and from hand-held panoramic toys to utterly spectacular enterprises.

    Annika Johnson

    Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide. A Journal of Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture

  • As one of the leading proponents of media archaeology, Erkki Huhtamo's achievement is not only to recuperate the forgotten moving panorama to media history, but also to demonstrate how it offers innovative insights into the historical formation of media culture...A model undertaking of media archaeology, Illusions in Motion also represents a claim for the value of the meticulous, slow labour of historical scholarship, and the nuanced argument made possible by its most conventional form of dissemination, the printed book.

    Susan Potter

    Media International Australia

  • For at least fifteen years, since the appearance of Stephan Oettermann's The Panorama, historians of nineteenth-century visual culture have recognized that we did not know the history of moving panoramas, but needed to. Although the moving panorama was a prominent feature of cultural life in Europe and the United States at the time, its actual history remained a blank space. With the publication of Huhtamo's work, that blank space no longer exists... From the peristrephic panorama to the diorama, to peepshow boxes, to the eidophusikon, Huhtamo's book recovers a largely forgotten history of nineteenth-century media and examines the moving panorama within this constellation of practices.

    Josh Ellenbogen

    The Art Bulletin

  • Huhtamo's intellectual canvas is, perhaps inevitably, broad; his text ranges over the history of moving panoramas, bringing us from the early years of its invention to its mid-nineteenth-century apogee and beyond... The final chapters of the book are more reflective, considering the afterlife of the panorama and its place in twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature, journalism, science, philosophy, and propaganda.

    John McAleer

    Technology and Culture


  • A pioneer of the media archaeological methodology, Erkki Huhtamo reveals in this book his roots as a cultural historian. Illusions in Motion is painstakingly well researched and meticulously composed. Besides excavating the histories of this neglected medium, the moving panorama, it offers an empirically grounded example of how to research media cultures. Huhtamo shows us what fantastic results patient research can achieve.

    Jussi Parikka

    media theorist and Reader in Media & Design, Winchester School of Art, UK

  • An intelligent and thorough introduction to this largely forgotten medium has been sorely needed, and now we have it. Erkki Huhtamo has a commendably crisp style. He is not content to recite the huge number of facts he has so meticulously assembled. He consistently puts his facts into context, and as the fascinating story of moving panoramas unfolds he makes sure we are fully equipped to appreciate it.

    Ralph Hyde

    author of Panoramania!

  • Erkki Huhtamo's remarkable book is a massive archaeological dig revealing a long lost city that we still inhabit, carefully dusting off the foundation of the illusions that continue to move across our screens, walls, and cities. With a quarter century of focused, original research in numerous languages, it sets the scholarly standard for media archaeology, a historical enterprise that gauges itself on relevance to the present. On that count Illusions in Motion informs an extraordinary, rolling range where painting meets architecture meets theater meets cinema that scrolls into all the screens, immersions, and augmentations of today.

    Douglas Kahn

    Research Professor, National Institute for Experimental Arts, University of New South Wales, Sydney

  • In this exciting book Erkki Huhtamo, our foremost media archeologist, gives us the most thorough and insightful treatment of the moving image media that dominated the nineteenth century and gave us a new word for a modern mode of vision: the panorama. Huhtamo explores the varieties of this revolutionary visual medium, which utterly transformed conceptions of what a picture could be: introducing effects of motion and light and eliminating the idea of the frame. This panorama opened up a new conception of the relation between art and perception that immersive new media are only now catching up with. With erudition and insight, as well as passion and humor, Huhtamo returns the panorama to its merited place in cultural history.

    Tom Gunning

    Edwin A. and Betty L. Bergman Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies, University of Chicago