About MoR


The work­ing the­sis of the project is that these images from 1839–1876 demon­strate that race in this peri­od (span­ning approx­i­mate­ly forty years; before, dur­ing, and after the Civ­il War) was a much more flu­id and ambigu­ous con­cept than we may now assume. The project’s aim would be in part to dis­cern and address how these images from the past dis­lo­cate our own present pre­sump­tions about the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of race. Of course, some images may seem only to con­firm our expec­ta­tions of that era’s depic­tions. This ten­sion is what the Mir­ror of Race intends to explore.

But beyond the his­tor­i­cal dimen­sion, the project hopes to hold up these images as a mir­ror to our present, to con­front our under­stand­ing of the mean­ing of race today. The ear­li­est form of pho­tog­ra­phy intro­duced in the Unit­ed States was the daguerreo­type, in 1840. Daguerreo­types are, in strict point of fact, mir­rors. Each one is a unique image pro­duced on a reflec­tive, sil­ver-coat­ed cop­per plate. As such, the daguerreo­type serves as the “image” for all the images pre­sent­ed in the Mir­ror of Race project. In such pho­tographs, we see our­selves in two sens­es: we see our ances­tors and so our past, but we also see our own reflec­tions on the same sur­face. See­ing, then, is a cen­tral theme to the idea of the project, for see­ing under­lies so much of the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of race as ground­ed in appear­ance and see­ing is what we do when we reflect in — and on — the mir­ror.

It is pre­cise­ly because of the dis­lo­ca­tion of time that the images col­lect­ed here may serve as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to reflect on what race means in the Unit­ed States today — and what it can, should, and should not mean in the future. The hope under­ly­ing the ele­ments of the Mir­ror of Race project is that these pho­tographs from a cen­tu­ry and a half in the past can insti­gate the kind of pro­duc­tive con­ver­sa­tion, both aca­d­e­m­ic and pub­lic, about race that often seems so hard to pro­mote.

The Mir­ror of Race project envi­sions a range of venues for the dis­play and dis­cus­sion of the images such as this web­site, lecture/performances, teach­ing mate­ri­als and oth­er inter­dis­ci­pli­nary, mul­ti­me­dia under­tak­ings. Please vis­it often to get updates on these devel­op­ments

The mul­ti-faceted nature of the Mir­ror of Race project offers a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to engage audi­ences, both on-line and at the lecture/performances, in a fresh dis­cus­sion of race in the Unit­ed States. Audi­ences will be encour­aged to relate their own sto­ries and pre­con­cep­tions about race to the images and the sto­ries being told. Because the lec­ture-per­for­mances will be coor­di­nat­ed with this web site that includes images, com­men­tary and essays, as well as venues for view­ers to offer feed­back, the con­ver­sa­tion will be an ongo­ing one. Schools and col­leges that engage the lecture/performances will have, in the online exhi­bi­tion and web­site, a tool for con­tin­u­ing research and class­room dis­cus­sion.