Picturing Slavery


Thomas Jefferys, The West Indian Atlas (London, 1780, copy in the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University), as shown on http://www.slaveryimages.org, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record contains 1,280 images, many of them dating from the time of slavery.  The website was created as part of a joint project of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the Digital Media Lab at the University of Virginia Library. The authors of the site (Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite) note that there is little interpretation of the images on the site, and they do not make claims as to the historical authenticity or the accuracy of what the images display—that is, these are images that have been in circulation, some of them will be an accurate representation of what the artist/author saw, but some will not. A lot of work has gone into ensuring the source of the pictures is accurate….as historians, it is up to us to interpret the images and make up our own minds about what those images tell us. As with all representations of the past, often the image can tell us just as much about the time or place where the image was produced (or the person who produced it), as it can tell us about the subject matter depicted in the image.

You can access the website and browse the collection here: Slavery Images

Take note that some of the images on the site remain subject to copyright—where this is the case, the notes accompanying the images will notify you of this. For more information on using the images, visit the ‘Acknowledging the Website, Conditions of Use’ page here.


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