Peabody Museum Daguerreotypes: An Interdisciplinary Interrogation

November 2012

Harvard University’s Peabody Museum houses a small but important collection of 38 mid-19th-century daguerreotypes depicting African and African American slaves, as well as Chinese, Indian, and African immigrants and Native Americans. These images are significant for many reasons and require thoughtful and sensitive treatment. The slave photographs, taken in Columbia, South Carolina, were acquired by Harvard Professor Louis Agassiz 15 years before the abolition of slavery. They have attracted a great deal of international attention over the years and are among the Peabody’s most requested images for reprinting. Up until now, however, there has been no significant Harvard scholarship devoted to the Peabody daguerreotypes. We propose to gather an interdisciplinary group of scholars, from Harvard and elsewhere, to examine the daguerreotypes from a number of diverse perspectives, including anthropology, history, history of science, American history, art history, and the history of photography. We hope that a seminar will establish the foundation for a volume of essays for publication in 2015, in time for the sesquicentennial of the end of slavery in the United States.