• Date and time: Friday 1 May 2015, 5.30pm
  • Location: Bowland auditorium, Berrick Saul building
  • Admission: is free and open to all. No ticket required.

Event details

Department of History lecture

Zoe Trodd will share and analyse newly-discovered photographs of the leading black abolitionist and former slave 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.

The 160 images include ten daguerreotypes (previously historians believed that only five or six existed). 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’s lecture 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 slave’s right to freedom and the African American’s right to equality.

Professor Zoe Trodd, University of Nottingham