Lecturer and author John Lawson Stoddard was born in 1850 in Brookline, Massachusetts. He was a proud direct descendent of New England theologian Solomon Stoddard. After graduating from Williams College in 1871, he attended the Yale Divinity School to study theology. From there, Mr. Stoddard became an instructor at the exclusive Boston Latin School, where he taught Latin and French.
In 1874, Mr. Stoddard was able to realize a lifelong dream to travel the world, and over the next two years visited Europe, Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt and the Palestine, absorbing whatever he could about the histories and cultures of each country. Afterwards, he studied briefly in Germany before returning to America to share with his students what he had seen, heard, and tasted along his global trek. He soon extended his lectures to adult groups, and his intellect, wit, and charisma transformed John L. Stoddard into an extremely popular speaker on the American lecture circuit. This launched a surprising new career that would prove to be far more lucrative than teaching at a private school.
Mr. Stoddard began supplementing his lectures with lantern slides of his travels. He lacked the technical prowess to produce these slides himself and had to rely on others. In addition, he employed a French company, J. Levy, to produce images and hand-tinted slide transparencies. Despite knowing little about photography - in fact, he never even took his own photographs, but instructed his personal photographer on all views, angles, and vantage points to use - Mr. Stoddard's lectures became truly unique visual experiences. For example, his lecture on Constantinople included a mixture of photographs, engravings, recreations of historical scenes, and reproductions of drawings from noteworthy sites. Typically, contemporary slideshows offer no such media variety, which made Mr. Stoddard's lectures particularly rare for their time. Many of his photographs were not retouched in any way, while others were artistically enveloped in shadows or ornately framed. Mr. Stoddard would frequently display artistic reproductions alongside actual location photographs. His attitude was essentially, "Anything goes," as long as the visuals emphasized his verbal descriptions.
Although Mr. Stoddard did not regard the slides as anything more than complementary material, he clearly understood their importance to his lectures. He consulted with T. C. Hepworth, a noted lantern projection expert of the period, who advised that although the views were ultimately secondary to the lecture material, they must nevertheless be the finest lantern slides available and the images should easily fit the viewer's eye. Furthermore, the slides should be seamlessly to the lecture that they needed no introduction.
Mr. Stoddard later published several volumes of his lecture series, beginning with Red-Letter Days Abroad in 1884, which contained 100 engravings from actual photographs of buildings, scenes, and objects described in the text. Ten volumes and five supplements of John L. Stoddard's Lectures were published between 1897 and 1898, chronicling visits to cities and sites that included Scandinavia, Athens, the Far East, Egypt, Moscow, the Rhine, the United Kingdom, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone National Park. Mr. Stoddard devoted his later years to philanthropic efforts such as the establishment of a shelter for homeless children and the construction of a secondary school in his adopted hometown of Merano, Italy, which is where he died on June 5, 1931 at the age of 81.
1883 The American Bookseller, Vol. XIV (New York: The American News Company), p. 824.
1899 Book Culture, Vol. I (Boston: E. B. Hall), p. 13.
2004 Silent Film Sound (New York: Columbia University Press), pp. 56-58.
1901 Wilson’s Photographic Magazine, Vol. XXXVIII (New York: Edward L. Wilson), pp. 174-175.
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