Exposing Humanity: Slavery, Antislavery, and Early Photography in America, 1839-1865


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation examines the place of photographic images and image-practices in the cultures of American slavery and antislavery—from the birth of photography in 1839 to the end of the Civil War in 1865. It relates photography to earlier image-making technologies, and explores how this new art helped white southerners to defend slavery, northern reformers to mobilize opposition to slavery, and enslaved people to shape their identities. Ultimately, this dissertation argues that proslavery and antislavery forces influenced photography by cultivating its potential as a vehicle to document the social world, and it argues that photography simultaneously offered both sides a heightened sense of legitimacy and urgency that fueled the sectional crisis and made compromise all the more unthinkable.