J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Studying American Slavery at Brown and Columbia

On Thursday, 21 May, the the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice at Brown University will open a new exhibit titled “A Peculiar Aesthetic: Representation and Images of Slavery.”

The event announcement says:
Racial slavery remains one of the most vexed issues in American and New World history. Its legacies haunt and shape our contemporary lives. Utilizing historic artwork from the Brown University Library Instructional Image Collection, the exhibition A Peculiar Aesthetic examines how these images coalesce to represent a world in which plantations, slave markets and dwellings, maroon ambushes, cosmetic boxes, figurines and decorative tables, and printers’ typefaces of runaway slaves – evoke again and again the realization of how central slavery was to ways of life within New World and American society.
From 5:00 to 7:00 P.M. on 21 May, there will be an opening reception at the center’s gallery, 94 Waterman Street in Providence, Rhode Island. The exhibition will remain on view there through 31 October, Monday through Friday, 8:45 A.M. to 3:45 P.M.

In related news, the New York Times reported on the findings of a history seminar at Columbia looking at that New York university’s connections to slavery.
Sharon Liao, a junior at Columbia College, uncovered 18th-century accounting records showing that the school not only received donations from prominent New York families with slave plantations in the West Indies, but sometimes lent them money at below-market interest rates.

“These guys were basically using Columbia as a bank,” Mr. [Eric] Foner said.
The seminar students’ basic finding was that Columbia had some students, faculty, and donors who vocally opposed slavery, more who benefited directly from it, and many more who didn’t oppose it while benefiting indirectly. Which part of that history has the institution promoted most in recent years? Not surprisingly, Columbia, like the U.S. of A. as a whole, has preferred to emphasize the slow move toward emancipation.

[The image above comes from a 1781 issue of the Royal Gazette of Jamaica, courtesy of the British Library and the Journal of the American Revolution.]

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