Digital History>Topics>Slavery

The iconography of slavery and race

Digital History TOPIC ID 114

Traditionally, historians have relied on written evidence. But a large amount of “iconographic” evidence also exists, which has not been subjected to the same kind of analysis as written and printed sources. An extensive collection of images dealing with slavery can be found at:

There are a number of questions one needs to ask when looking at this visual evidence:

  1. What do these images tell us about slavery in different areas at different moments in time?
  2. What is the purpose of particular images? To provide an accurate rendering of slavery? Or to propagandize?
  3. Does the image depict U.S. slavery? West Indian slavery? Brazilian slavery? And during which time period?
  4. Is the image life-like or is it a caricature or stereotype?
  5. How does this image contribute to our understanding of slavery and the workings of the slave system?

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