Old essays page

To read a specific essay, click on its title. To learn more about an author, click on the author’s name.

Martin A. Berger, White Suffering and the Branded Hand
This essay analyzes the social and racial significance of an unusual mid-nineteenth-century daguerreotype of a white abolitionist’s branded hand.

Erina Duganne, Black Civil War Portraiture in Context
An investigation into the kinds of meanings that photographic portraits of black Civil War soldiers had at the time of their making as well as some of the challenges that such a recovery poses for historians today.

Gregory Fried, A Freakish Whiteness: The Circassian Lady and the Caucasian Fantasy
What is the meaning of mid-19th century portraits of white women with strange names, exotic costumes, and wildly frizzed hair?

Gregory Fried, “True Pictures”: Frederick Douglass on the Promise of Photography
This essay explores the ideas of Frederick Douglass on the revolutionary significance of photography for the cause of abolishing slavery and for advancing human equality.

Joan Gage, A White Slave Girl: “Mulato Raised by Charles Sumner”
A narrative of discovery about one of the first photographs used to promote the abolitionist cause.

Carol Goodman, “As White as Their Masters”: Visualizing the Color Line
A discussion of the ambiguity of the color line in 19th century visual representations of race.

Maria Helena P. T. Machado, Flávio dos Santos Gomes, and John M. Monteiro, Three Essays on Agassiz in Brazil
This series of essays explores an important but little-known collection of ethnographic photographs made by the Swiss-American naturalist Louis Agassiz during an expedition to Brazil in 1865-66.

Molly Rogers, “Fair Women Are Transformed into Negresses”
A meditation on writing about oppressed individuals photographed for scientific purposes, and whether it is possible to liberate such people through an act of imagination.

Molly Rogers, Louis Agassiz: Full Face and Profile
A biographical approach to photographs of slaves, considering the images in relation to the personal and professional attitudes of the naturalist who commissioned them.

Shawn Michelle Smith, A Spirit Photograph
An analysis of a “spirit photograph,” a form of photography thought to bridge this world and the next.

Dominique Zino, On Seeing and Writing Together: An intro­duc­tion to a multi-media, col­lab­o­ra­tive writ­ing project
This collaborative essay by a professor and her students in a college writing course demonstrates how the images in the Mirror of Race exhibition may be used to teach research and reflection on the meaning of race in American history and culture.

We will be adding essays on a regular basis. Please come back again to see what is new.