To Make Their Own Way in the World: The Enduring Legacy of the Zealy Daguerreotypes


9/22/2020. To Make Their Own Way in the World: The Enduring Legacy of the Zealy Daguerreotypes, Pp. 488. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Aperture and Peabody Museum Press. BUY THIS BOOK
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To Make Their Own Way in the World: The Enduring Legacy of the Zealy Daguerreotypes



Foreword by Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Photographic Essay by Carrie Mae Weems

Bronze Medal, 2021 IPPY Awards (Photography)
Finalist, 2021 Arles Book Awards (Historical)


The Peabody Museum Press and Aperture are pleased to announce the new publication To Make Their Own Way in the World: The Enduring Legacy of the Zealy Daguerreotypes. The book is a profound consideration of some of the most challenging images in the history of photography: fifteen daguerreotypes of Alfred, Delia, Drana, Fassena, Jack, Jem, and Renty—men and women of African descent who were enslaved in South Carolina.

Made by photographer Joseph T. Zealy for Harvard professor Louis Agassiz in 1850, the daguerreotypes were rediscovered at the Peabody Museum in 1976. Since that time, the images have drawn worldwide interest, provoking wide-ranging interpretation and raising critical questions about the history and conditions of slavery, racism, representation, and identity.

To Make Their Own Way in the World features essays by prominent scholars from the disciplines of history, anthropology, art history, and American studies. Together, they explore such topics as the identities and experiences of the seven people depicted in the daguerreotypes, the close relationship between photography and race in the nineteenth century, and visual narratives of slavery and its lasting effects. The authors also examine the ways contemporary artists have used the daguerreotypes to critique institutional racism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

With over two hundred illustrations, including a portfolio of stunning new photographs by contemporary artist Carrie Mae Weems, this book frames the Zealy daguerreotypes as works of urgent social and intellectual engagement. With strong resonance with the events shaping American lives today, this groundbreaking multidisciplinary volume is part of Harvard’s ongoing efforts to grapple with the university’s and the country’s historical and enduring connections to slavery.

“At this moment and in these divided states of America, perhaps more than at any time since their rediscovery in 1976,” Molly Rogers writes, “the daguerreotypes of Jem, Alfred, Delia, Renty, George Fassena, Drana, and Jack command our attention, demanding that we look closely, listen intently, and speak out—however difficult this may be—giving voice to all that we have learned.”

A traveling exhibition about the Zealy daguerreotypes is planned to launch in 2022.

About the Contributors

Ian Askew is an artist working in performance, theater, and music. Recent performance research includes SLAMDANCE, a solo concert on punk and Blackness, and A Story Project, a directing thesis on process and storytelling. Recent collaborations include assisting directing The Black Clown (The American Repertory Theater, Lincoln Center) and Perle Noire: Meditations for Joséphine (The Met Museum) alongside director Zack Winokur. They are a 2019 graduate of Harvard College where they co-founded the Harvard Black Playwrights Festival. 

Ilisa Barbash is curator of visual anthropology at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. She co-directed the films In and Out of Africa (1992) and Sweetgrass (2009), which was nominated as best documentary film for the Independent Spirit Awards, Gotham Award, IDA Documentary Award, and Cinema Eye Awards and was selected for the U.S. State Department and the University of Southern California’s 2012 American Documentary Showcase. She co-wrote Cross-Cultural Filmmaking: A Handbook for Making Documentary and Ethnographic Films and Video (1997) and co-edited The Cinema of Robert Gardner (2007). Barbash’s book Where the Roads All End: Photography and Anthropology in the Kalahari (Peabody Museum Press, 2016) was the recipient of the Society for Visual Anthropology’s 2017 John Collier Junior Award for visual excellence in the use of still photography.

Robin Bernstein is the Dillon Professor of American History and professor of African and African American Studies and of studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University. She is the author of the multi-award-winning book Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights (2011). Bernstein co-edits the book series Performance and American Cultures for New York University Press.

Keziah Clarke is a graduate of Harvard College, class of 2020, concentrating in History and Literature with a citation in Arabic.

Matthew Fox-Amato is assistant professor of History at the University of Idaho. He is the author of Exposing Slavery: Photography, Human Bondage, and the Birth of Modern Visual Politics in America (2019), which was a finalist for two awards: the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize and the Association of American Publishers PROSE Award. He received a B.A. from Harvard and a Ph.D. in history, with a certificate in Visual Studies, from the University of Southern California.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. An Emmy Award–winning filmmaker, literary scholar, journalist, cultural critic, and institution builder, Gates has authored or co-authored twenty-four books, including Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (2019). Among his twenty-one documentary films are Black in Latin America (2011), The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2013), Black America since MLK: And Still I Rise (2016), Africa’s Great Civilizations (2017), Reconstruction: America after the Civil War (2019–), and the popular genealogy series Finding Your Roots, now in its sixth season on PBS. The recipient of fifty-five honorary degrees, Gates was a member of the first class awarded “genius grants” by the MacArthur Foundation in 1981, and in 1998 he became the first African American scholar to be awarded the National Humanities Medal.

Harlan Greene is currently Scholar in Residence at Addlestone Library at the College of Charleston, where he previously served as head of special collections, and as manager of reference and archival services at the college’s Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture. He was previously archivist and assistant director of the South Carolina Historical Society and director of the North Carolina Preservation Consortium. He is a prize-winning novelist and the author of numerous books and articles on the culture and history of the South Carolina low country. Some of his works include Mr. Skylark: John Bennett and the Charleston Renaissance (2001); The Damned Don’t Cry, They Just Disappear: The Life and Works of Harry Hervey (2017); and Slave Badges and the Slave Hire System of Charleston, South Carolina, 1783–1865, with Harry S. Hutchins, Jr., and Brian E. Hutchins (2003).

Gregg Hecimovich is professor and chair of the Department of English at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. From 2014 to 2015, Hecimovich was a Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow at the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University. From 2015 to 2016, he served as the Josephus Daniels Fellow at the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and was a Public Scholar Fellow appointed by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The author of four books, including Puzzling the Reader: Riddles in Nineteenth-Century British Literature (2008), he is currently working on The Life and Times of Hannah Crafts: The True Story of the Bondwoman’s Narrative and a separate monograph based on the material that appears in his chapter in this volume.

Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham is the Victor S. Thomas Professor of History and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. A pioneering scholar in African American women’s history, she is known for coining and theorizing the “politics of respectability” in her prizewinning book Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church 1880–1920 (1993), and she is co-editor, with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., of the African American National Biography (2013). Higginbotham thoroughly revised and rewrote the ninth edition of the classic African American history survey From Slavery to Freedom (2010), which was first published by John Hope Franklin in 1947. She has now authored the tenth edition for publication in 2020. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, she received the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama in 2015 for “illuminating the African American journey.”

Christoph Irmscher teaches at Indiana University Bloomington, where he is Distinguished Professor of English and George F. Getz, Jr., Professor and Class of 1942 Professor in the Wells Scholars Program, which he also directs. Among his books are The Poetics of Natural History (1999; second edition, 2019), one of the earliest treatments of Agassiz’s photographs; Longfellow Redux (2006); Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science (2006); Max Eastman: A Life (2017); Stephen Spender, Poems Written Abroad (2019); and the forthcoming Love and Loss in Hollywood: Max Eastman, Florence Deshon, and Charlie Chaplin (co-written with Cooper Graham). Irmscher is also the editor of Louis Agassiz’s Introduction to the Study of Natural History (2017).

Jonathan Karp is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of American Studies at Harvard University.

Sarah Elizabeth Lewis is associate professor of History of Art and Architecture and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. She is the guest editor of the landmark “Vision & Justice” issue of Aperture magazine, which received the 2017 Infinity Award for Critical Writing and Research from the International Center of Photography, and was the inaugural recipient of the Freedom Scholar Award from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) in 2019. Her research interests focus on representations of race in contemporary art and nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American culture and across the Black Atlantic world. She is the author of The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery (2014) and is currently finishing a book on race and photography and the Caucasian War for Harvard University Press.

Eliza Blair Mantz graduated from Harvard College in 2018 with a degree in Theater, Dance, and Media and a secondary in African American Studies. They are now working as an actor and activist in Los Angeles.

William Henry Pruitt III is pursuing a Ph.D. in African and African American Studies with a primary field in English and a secondary in Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University. His research interests include twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature, performance, and Black radical thought in the United States.

Molly Rogers is a writer and independent scholar with interests in American history and the history and theory of photography. She is the author of Delia’s Tears: Race, Science, and Photography in Nineteenth-Century America (2010), a history of the Peabody Museum’s daguerreotypes of enslaved Africans and African Americans. In addition to her research and writing, Rogers is associate director of the Center for the Humanities at New York University.

Reggie St. Louis graduated from Harvard College in 2018 and is currently working to develop biomaterials for 3-D printing living human tissue.

Tanya Sheehan is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Art at Colby College and Director of Research at the Lunder Institute for American Art, Colby College Museum of Art. She has been a research associate at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University since 2012 and the executive editor of the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art Journal since 2015. Sheehan is the author of Doctored: The Medicine of Photography in Nineteenth-Century America (2011) and Study in Black and White: Photography, Race, Humor (2018). Her edited books include Photography, History, Difference (2014); Photography and Its Origins, co-edited with Andrés Mario Zervigón (2015); Grove Art Guide to Photography (2017); and Photography and Migration (2018). She is currently working on a book that examines medicine and modernism in art by African Americans.

Manisha Sinha is the Draper Chair in American History at the University of Connecticut. She is the author of The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina (2000) and the multiple-award-winning The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition (2016), which was long-listed for the National Book Award for Non-Fiction. She is a contributing author of The Abolitionist Imagination (2012) and co-editor of the two-volume African American Mosaic: A Documentary History from the African Slave Trade to the Twenty-First Century (2004) and of Contested Democracy (2004). Sinha’s research interests lie in United States history, especially the transnational histories of slavery, abolition, and feminism, as well as the history and legacy of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

John Stauffer is the Sumner R. and Marshall S. Kates Professor of English and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. He is the author or editor of over twenty books and one hundred articles about antislavery and/or photography, including the bestsellers GIANTS: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln (2008) and The State of Jones, with Sally Jenkins (2010). Stauffer’s The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race (2002) was co-winner of the Frederick Douglass Book Prize and second-place winner of the Lincoln Prize. The Battle Hymn of the Republic: A Biography of the Song that Marches On (2013) and Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American, with Zoe Trodd and Celeste-Marie Bernier (2015), were Lincoln Prize finalists. He has served as a consultant on numerous exhibitions, documentaries, and feature films.

Carrie Mae Weems is an internationally renowned contemporary artist whose work resides in public and private collections around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum of Modern Art; Tate Modern; Whitney Museum of American Art; National Gallery of Canada; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Her many publications include The Hampton Project (Aperture, 2001), The Louisiana Project (2005), and Kitchen Table Series (2016). Among her numerous awards and grants are the Prix de Rome, the National Endowment for the Arts grant, Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, Anonymous Was a Woman and the Tiffany awards, and a U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts. In 2013, Weems received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship as well as the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She is represented by the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City.

Deborah Willis is an artist, author, and curator and University Professor and chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. She is a MacArthur and a Guggenheim Fellow and was a Richard D. Cohen Fellow at Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. Willis received the NAACP Image Award in 2014 for her co-authored book Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery, with Barbara Krauthamer (2013), and in 2015 for the documentary Through a Lens Darkly, inspired by her book Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present (2000). Other notable publications include The Black Female Body: A Photographic History, with Carla Williams (2002); Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present (2009); Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs, with Emily Bernard (2009); and Black Venus 2010: They Called Her “Hottentot” (2010).

John Wood received the 2009 Gold Deutscher Fotobuchpreis for his collection of poems Endurance and Suffering: Narratives of Disease in the 19th Century (2007) and was awarded the Iowa Poetry Prize of the University of Iowa Press twice, for In Primary Light (1993) and The Gates of the Elect Kingdom (1996). His Selected Poems 1968–1998 was published in 1999. He founded and directed McNeese University’s M.F.A. program in creative writing and held professorships there in both English literature and photographic history. He was co-curator of the 1995 Smithsonian Institution/ National Museum of American Art exhibition Secrets of the Dark Chamber: The Art of the American Daguerreotype, and his book based on the exhibition was selected by the New York Times Book Review as one of the “Best Books of 1995.” Wood is editor and co-founder of 21st Editions and co-editor of the German fine arts press Edition Galerie Vevais.

Full Text

By Ilisa Barbash, Molly Rogers, and Deborah Willis

Foreword by Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Photographic Essay by Carrie Mae Weems

Last updated on 01/17/2022