Rogers on Researching the Zealy Dagguerreotypes of Slaves (2012)

In 2012, at Mirror of Race, Molly Rogers reflected on the Jacques Zealy daguerreotypes of South Carolina slaves (now held by Harvard University).

In the sum­mer of 1976, employ­ees of Har­vard University’s Peabody Museum of Archae­ol­ogy and Eth­nol­ogy dis­cov­ered fif­teen daguerreo­types in the museum attic. The pho­tographs were made in 1850 and they depict five African men and two African Amer­i­can women, all of whom were slaves in or near Colum­bia, South Car­olina. The names of the peo­ple are known—the men are Jack, Jem, Fassena and Alfred, and the women Drana and Delia—as are a few details on the cir­cum­stances of their lives. The daguerreo­types are con­sid­ered to be the ear­li­est known pho­tographs of iden­ti­fi­able Amer­i­can slaves….

…As I exam­ined the pho­tographs, scru­ti­niz­ing Delia’s body with the aid of a mag­ni­fy­ing glass—seeking in her image evi­dence of mal­treat­ment, of the cir­cum­stances under which the image was made, and of her indi­vid­ual character—an unpleas­ant feel­ing came over me. Louis Agas­siz had com­mis­sioned Delia’s pho­tographs after phys­i­cally exam­in­ing her. The images were intended to serve as aides-memoire to this osten­si­bly sci­en­tific exam­i­na­tion and also as evi­dence of his find­ings, which he could show to other peo­ple. The pho­tographs were there­fore dou­bly linked to Delia’s vio­la­tion: they were both the cul­mi­na­tion of an inva­sive exam­i­na­tion and a sec­ond instance of this objec­ti­fy­ing scrutiny. And there I was, exam­in­ing Delia much as the sci­en­tist had done: she was exposed against her will and in her body I sought infor­ma­tion, facts, evi­dence. That the kind of the evi­dence I hoped to find dif­fered from that of the Swiss nat­u­ral­ist offered lit­tle con­so­la­tion. Ulti­mately, there was no avoid­ing the fact that I was regard­ing Delia as an object and doing so for my own gain…

Read the rest: Molly Rogers, “Fair Women Are Transformed into Negresses,” 2012 January 18.

VIDEO: Dunbar on African American Women’s History in the Digital Age (Philadelphia)

Erica Armstrong Dunbar (Associate Professor of Black American Studies and History at the University of Delaware) discusses early African American women’s history, digitization, and constructing historical narratives of black women in the 21st century.

From the announcement:

Continue reading

DATABASE: Maryland State Archives Launches Name Database

The Maryland State Archives Legacy of Slavery in Maryland: An Archives of Maryland Electronic Publication has launched “Beneath the Underground.”

From the website:

The Beneath the Underground database features entries of over 300,000 individuals including, white and black, slave owners, enslaved and free individuals from primarily the years of 1830 through 1880 to review. Listed below are the record series currently searchable on-line.

About the Legacies of Slavery in Maryland site:

This program seeks to preserve and promote the vast universe of experiences that have shaped the lives of Maryland’s African American population. From the day that Mathias de Sousa and Francisco landed in St. Mary’s county aboard the Ark and the Dove in 1634, Black Marylanders have made significant contributions to both the state and nation in the political, economic, agricultural, legal, and domestic arenas. Despite what often seemed like insurmountable odds, Marylanders of Color have adapted, evolved, and prevailed. The Maryland State Archives’ Study of the Legacy of Slavery Staff invites researchers to explore all of these elements and more within its numerous source documents, exhibits and interactive online presentations.

(H/T: Krystal Appiah (@kaappiah) on Twitter)

WEB/SOURCES: Registers of the Havana Slave Trade Commission Compiled by H.B. Lovejoy

via Registers of the Havana Slave Trade Commission | Desk of H.B. Lovejoy.

“Between 1808 and 1848, courts in Freetown, Sierra Leone and Havana, Cuba, charged with suppressing the transatlantic slave trade, meticulously recorded the African names and physical features (sex, age, height; and evidence of ethnic scarring and small pox) for almost 100,000 people rescued off slave ships. These records are known as “The Registers of Liberated Africans;” and they constitute a large and representative sample of an estimated 2.7 million people carried to the Americas after 1807 – the majority of whom landed in Brazil (1.9 million) and most of the rest in Cuba. Thus,  they may be the most cohesive body of documentation available for assessing where people came from in West Africa.

Although the Sierra Leone registers contain over 85,000 names, the focus is on the smaller, yet equally significant dataset made in Havana. I updated the Registers of the Havana Slave Trade Commission, 1824-1841. It totals 10,391 “liberated Africans.” It was made using digital copies of the original records. A team of historians made multiple revisions of the lettering for each name. To find out more about the making of this database please click here. The Havana Registers database is a small part of the African Names Database….”

For more information, click here. Many thanks to Linda Rodriguez for bringing this resource to our attention.

EDITED: Horton and Horton on Slavery and American Memory

Slavery Public History

James Oliver Horton and Lois E Horton. Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

via UNC Press:

Continue reading

ARTICLES: Kopelson and Yingling on Archive and Press in Caribbean, U.S.

Articles of interest in Early American Studies (volume 11:2):

Heather Miyano Kopelson, “‘One Indian and a Negroe, the First Thes Ilands Ever Had’: Imagining the Archive in Early Bermuda.” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 11, no. 2 (2013): 272–313.

The early generations of enslaved and bonded Africans and Indians in Bermuda were essential to the functioning of the colony. But beyond their contributions to the colonial enterprise, they continued to practice the skills that connected them to spiritual entities whose power enabled them not only to comprehend their environment but also to affect it directly. In their initial approach to Bermudian shores, in fishing, processing manioc, thatching and weaving with parts of the palmetto tree, as well as making cords with cotton and palmetto fibers, they altered the spiritual landscape in ways that are perhaps less tangible toWestern scholarly inquiry but no less significant to investigating these individuals’ influence on the tiny archipelago in which they found themselves. Uncovering these multiple layers of meaning requires imagining the archive in an expansive, speculative way that moves beyond certain narratives of the documentary record to a fuller consideration of the process of making place in an early modern Atlantic colony.

Charlton W. Yingling, “No One Who Reads the History of Hayti Can Doubt the Capacity of Colored Men: Racial Formation and Atlantic Rehabilitation in New York City’s Early Black Press, 1827-1841.” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 11, no. 2 (2013): 314–348.

From 1827 to 1841 the black newspapers Freedom’s Journal and the Colored American of New York City were venues for one of the first significant racial projects in the United States. To counter aspersions against their race, the editors of these publications renegotiated their community’s identity within the matrix of the Black Atlantic away from waning discourses of a collective African past. First, Freedom’s Journal used the Haitian Revolution to exemplify resistance, abolitionism, and autonomy. The Colored American later projected the Republic of Haiti as a model of governance, prosperity, and refinement to serve this community’s own evolving ambitions of citizenship, inclusion, and rights.

NEWS: Harvard to Digitize 18th and 19th Century Anti-Slavery Petitions

Hilton Petition

The Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University is digitizing eighteenth and nineteenth-century anti-slavery petitions:

“…Included in the thousands of petitions are first-person accounts of former slaves and free African-Americans seeking aid and full rights. For scholars, the use of the documents will be invaluable in research and teaching….

…According to project archivist Nicole Topich, signers of the petitions include 18th-century abolitionist Prince Hall, the founder of the first African-American Freemasonry. Other notable signers: African-American abolitionists Thomas Paul, Charles Lenox Redmond, and William Cooper Nell. Support also came from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Louisa May Alcott. Labor, political, and religious organizations backed many petitions….

…The Center for American Political Studies received a Humanities Collections and Reference Resources Foundation grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for the project, which in addition to the digitized petitions will include an interactive map, with connections to statistical and geographical data. Completion of the project is slated for June 2015.”

Read the rest: Colin Manning | Digitizing a movement | Harvard Gazette

Image Credit: “Led by John T. Hilton and signed by 11 prominent freemen of color in Boston, this 1858 petition was in reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision.”

Shepard on Insurance Policy Registers and Post-Civil War Virginia

E. Lee Shepard at the Virginia Historical Society’s Blog on processing the Life Insurance Company of Virginia’s records:

“Processing thirteen volumes that make up records from the formative years of the Life Insurance Company of Virginia was my first task on this project. Exploring these apparently routine books became an extraordinary experience for this veteran archivist. The evidence they disclose about a broad cross-section of Virginians dealing with the aftermath of a huge and devastating conflict is both unexpected and invaluable…..

The majority of the volumes are registers, indicating to whom life insurance policies were sold and for what premium and benefit amounts. The Life Insurance Company of Virginia, founded in Petersburg in 1871 and known familiarly as “Life of Virginia” in the twentieth century, recorded an extraordinary amount of information about its policyholders here besides just names and policy amounts—date and place of birth, race, occupation, age, and beneficiaries, for instance.

I was frankly amazed to see the range of policyholders. I had expected the strong showing of Petersburg and Richmond merchants and professionals; I found, too, a liberal smattering of artisans, laborers, domestics, and householders. Judy Batte of Hicksford, Virginia, a “house servant,” was the first African American to secure a policy, in February 1872, and she was followed by a fairly steady stream of men and women of her race. In fact, as the company grew and its client base became more national in scope, women made up an increasing percentage of policyholders….” (my emphasis)

Read the rest: What Can an Insurance Policy Register Tell Us About Life in Post–Civil War Virginia? | Virginia Historical Society’s Blog

Image Credit: First page of policies in the Register for the Life Insurance Company of Virginia, April 1871-December 1886 (Virginia Historical Society, Mss3 L6263 a 1, detail)

REVIEW: Johnson on STN’s 18th Century French Book Trade Database


“Europeans Purchasing a Slave Woman, late 18th cent.,” Guillaume Raynal, Histoire Philosophique et Politique . . . des Europeens dans les Deux Indes (Geneva, 1780), vol. 7, p. 377. (Copy at the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University) Image Reference H005 as shown on, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.

From The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe website:

The French Book Trade in Enlightenment Europe project uses database technology to map the trade of the Société Typographique de Neuchâtel (STN), a celebrated Swiss publishing house that operated between 1769 and 1794.

As the STN sold the works of other publishers alongside its own editions, their archives can be considered a representative source for studying the history of the book trade and dissemination of ideas in the late Enlightenment.

Using state of the art database, web interface and GIS technology, the project provides a user-friendly resource for use by scholars, teachers and students of French literature and history, book history, the Enlightenment and bibliography more generally…

Continue reading

Image of the Black in Western Art Research Project and Photo Archive

Spanning nearly 5,000 years and documenting virtually all forms of media, the Image of the Black in Western Art Research Project and Photo Archive is an unprecedented research project devoted to the systematic investigation of how people of African descent have been perceived and represented in art.

Started in 1960 by Jean and Dominique de Mänil in reaction to the continuing existence of segregation in the United States, the Archive contains photographs of approximately 30,000 works of art, each one of which is extensively documented and categorized by the Archive’s staff. For the first thirty years of the project’s existence, the project focused on the production of a prize-winning, four-volume series of generously illustrated books, The Image of the Black in Western Art.

Since moving to Harvard in 1994, the project is focused on the production of the final volume of The Image of the Black in Western Art and expanding access to the Archive itself (prior to its arrival at Harvard, the Archive was only available to scholars working on the published volumes). The Institute hosts conferences, fellowships for scholars, seminars, and exhibitions on issues raised by the Archive, including the African American Art Conference in 2004.

via Image of the Black in Western Art Research Project and Photo Archive | W.E.B. Du Bois Institute.  A selection of documents are available online via ArtStor ($$)