“Picturing Frederick Douglass: The Most Photographed American of the 19th Century”

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Date & Time: 
Monday, September 28, 2015
12:00pm to 1:00pm

“Picturing Frederick Douglass: The Most Photographed American of the 19th Century”
Professor in the American Studies Department at the University of Nottingham and co-director of the Centre for Research in Race and Rights.

Zoe Trodd will share and analyze newly-discovered photographs of the leading Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass. These photographs reveal that Douglass—rather than Lincoln, Whitman or General Custer, as scholars have previously claimed—was the most photographed American of the 19th century. With these widely-circulated images, a little-explored counterpart to his writings and speeches, Douglass became immediately recognizable in his own lifetime by millions, at a time when most whites understood America as a white man’s nation. More than any other American, he understood the implications of his country’s new fascination with the camera and believed that photography could operate as a catalyst to redeem the nation. He was also an astute critic and historian of visual culture, someone who wrote more extensively on photography than any other 19th-century American intellectual. Trodd will place Douglass at the center of the nation’s transformation from a textual culture to visual one in the years leading up to the Civil War, compare images from the pre- and post-Civil War eras, and trace Douglass’s visual journey from fugitive slave to firebrand radical and elder statesman. Through Douglass’s exploration of his own changing face, body and visual identity, we see him moving beyond the traditional idea of “character” as fixed to embrace the self in a state of continual flux. And as he employed the camera as a weapon in the abolitionist struggle, he used these commissioned and self-directed portraits to create a black public persona, reinvent black masculinity, out-citizen white citizens, counter racist iconography, and establish the right to freedom and equality.


 

Zoe Trodd is a professor in the American Studies Department at the University of Nottingham and co-director of the Centre for Research in Race and Rights. She received her PhD from Harvard University and taught in IRAAS from 2010-2012. Her books include American Protest Literature (Harvard UP, 2006), To Plead Our Own Cause (Cornell UP, 2008), The Tribunal: Responses to John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid (Harvard UP, 2012), and Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American (Norton, 2015).
 


Time:  12:00pm - 1:30pm
Location:  758 Schermerhorn Ext.
Columbia University, Morningside Campus