Date of Award

Spring 5-4-2024

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Justin Rivest

Second Advisor

Lauren Jannette


Automata – mechanical, self-moving representations of animals and humans – have been studied by historians mainly to account for their popularity in the European Enlightenment, where they influenced conceptions of how matter takes on life and agency in a mechanistic world. However, automata continued to be built well into the nineteenth century, particularly in Paris. Through analyzing and contextualizing the construction and reception of nineteenth-century French automata – from their commercialization to associations with industrialization, domestication, and colonial anxieties – these self-moving machines emerge as a uniquely evocative mode of representation in a French worldview that was quick to embrace a technologically mediated view of themselves and “others.” Through working across histories of science, technology, luxury, labor, colonialism and art, I show why these nineteenth-century automata began to represent the “other” to Europeans as moving sculptures dressed as exotic songbirds, orientalized turcs, and eventually submissive négres. These dynamic objects speak to the commercialization of a particular nineteenth-century European fantasy of domestication and imperialism in a racialized, mechanized world.

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