Monday, October 19, 2009

An Exhibition and Symposium: "Reframing the Color Line: Race and the Visual Culture of the Atlantic World"

Exhibit dates: October 19, 2009 - February 19, 2010
Exhibit location: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
Curated by Martha S. Jones, Associate Professor of History and Afroamerican and African Studies, University of Michigan, and Clayton Lewis, Curator of Graphics, Clements Library.

Symposium dates: October 30, 31, 2009
Symposium location: 1014 Tisch Hall, 435 S. State St., University of Michigan, Department of History

The William L. Clements Library presents "Reframing the Color Line: Race and the Visual Culture of the Atlantic World." This exhibition and symposium explore the origins of American racism in visual culture by examining original 19th century engravings, lithographs, watercolors, and books. Through an interdisciplinary approach, "Reframing the Color Line" explores the interplay between visual culture and U.S. race politics of the early nineteenth century. Visitors will come away with a better understanding of racism's past. They will also acquire a new, critical vantage point on how race continues to be constructed by the visual culture of today. Many images we confront in our everyday lives have long histories that imbue them with social meanings.

"Reframing the Color Line" centers on the work of Philadelphia artist Edward W. Clay. The artist’s most notorious series, "Life in Philadelphi"” was published in the late 1820s. Clay deployed caricature to pose questions about who African Americans, many of them former slaves, could be in a nation that relied upon race and slavery to signal inequality and difference. Clay invented black figures that uttered malapropisms, wore clothing of exaggerated proportions, struck ungraceful poses, and thereby failed to measure up to the demands of freedom and citizenship. His ideas were cruel, yet enduring.

The Exhibition reframes "Life in Philadelphia" in two new contexts. The series was influenced by parallel developments in Europe’s visual culture. The exhibition contrasts the series with the work of British and French caricaturists and reveals the trans-Atlantic roots of racism in visual culture. "Life in Philadelphia" also had a local context. In Philadelphia, Clay was only one of numerous artists to portray African Americans. Others, including Patrick Reason, Charles Willson Peale, James Akin, and John Lewis Krimmel, portrayed black Philadelphians as respectable, sympathetic and at times unremarkable figures on the urban landscape.

Visitors will be challenged to consider how these works, which drew upon well-established, fine arts techniques, also perpetuated derogatory ideas. The core materials are as provocative as they are important. Great care has been taken to ensure that their presentation teaches about their origins and meanings, while never perpetuating the pernicious stereotypes they contain. To meet this challenge, an interdisciplinary team from university programs in History, Museum Studies, American Culture, History of Art, and Afroamerican Studies has advised the production of this project. This exhibit will appeal to scholars, students, and members of the general public who have an interest in American history and culture, art history, ethnic studies, and graphic satire.

The symposium, scheduled for October 30, 31, 2009, will discuss issues related to race and 19th century visual culture, and the role of archives and museums in the construction of historical memory. The symposium panelists are:
Corey Capers, University of Illinois, Chicago.
Jasmine Cobb, University of Pennsylvania.
Erica Armstrong Dunbar, University of Delaware.
Martha S. Jones, University of Michigan.
Phillip Lapsansky, Library Company of Philadelphia.
Elise Lemire, SUNY Purchase.
Clayton Lewis, Clements Library, University of Michigan.
Samuel Otter, University of California, Berkeley.
The symposium events will be held at Tisch Hall on the University of Michigan central
campus and will be free and open to university faculty, students, and the public. There
will be a reception at the Clements from 4:30 - 6:00 pm on Friday October 30.
Symposium email contact:


FRIDAY, OCTOBER 30. 1:00 P.M. – 4:30 P.M.

Samuel Otter. University of California, Berkeley. Department of English.
'Have You Any Flesh Coloured Silk Stockings?' : Re-Viewing Edward W. Clay's 'Life in Philadelphia.'

Corey Capers. University of Illinois, Chicago. Department of History.
Reading Bobalition: Toward a Genealogy of Satiric Public Blackness.
Erica Armstrong Dunbar. University of Delaware. Department of History and Black American Studies Program.
Reading, Writing, and Womanhood: Representations of African American Women in the Antebellum City.

Elise Lemire. SUNY at Purchase. Department of Literature.
Edward Clay's "Practical Amalgamation" Series.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 30. 4:30 – 6:00 P.M.


SATURDAY, OCTOBER 31. 9:30 A.M. – 1:00 P.M.

Jasmine Nicole Cobb. University of Pennsylvania. Annenberg School for Communications.
Race in the Trans-Atlantic Parlor: Diffusions of "Life in Philadelphia."

Martha S. Jones. University of Michigan. Department of History, Center for Afroamerican and African Studies, and Law School.
Trans-Atlantic Visions: The Case of Haiti's Faustin Soulouque.
Phil Lapsansky, Curator of African American History, Library Company of Philadelphia.

Clayton Lewis. Curator of Graphic Materials, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan.

COREY CAPERS teaches Early American History and African American Studies from the Seventeenth to the mid-Nineteenth Century. Among the courses he has recently taught are: Ritual, Print and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Anglo-America; Authority, Resistance and Power in Early America; Black Lives in Revolution; and A History of Punishment: From Early Modern Europe to the Nineteenth-Century U.S. His primary areas of interest are in racial practice, print culture and citizenship during the Revolution and Early Republic as reflected in his dissertation, Black Voices/White Print: Race-making, Print Politics and the Rhetoric of Disorder in the Early National U.S. North. He is currently working on his book project entitled Public Blackness: Racial Practice, Publicity and Citizenship in the U.S. North, 1776 - 1828 as well an article entitled "Reading Bobalition: Racial Publicity and the Shaping of Democratic Order, 1816 - 1834."

JASMINE NICHOLE COBB is a doctoral candidate in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation, "Racing the Trans-Atlantic Parlor," considers representations of Black women in popular culture of the early nineteenth century. More broadly, her writing and research focuses on race, gender, and visual culture.

ERICA ARMSTRONG DUNBAR specializes in 19th century African American and Women's History. She received her B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1994 and her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 2000. Her first book is entitled: A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City (Yale University Press, 2008). She is currently working on her next book length project that focuses on African Americans and mental illness in the 19th century.

MARTHA S. JONES is Associate Professor of History and Afroamerican Studies, and Visiting Professor of Law at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Jones is the author of All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830-1900 (2007), which examines nineteenth-century debates over the rights of women. She directs the Law and Slavery and Freedom Project, an international research collaborative with Rebecca J. Scott (Michigan) and Jean H├ębrard (EHESS). Her current book length project is Overturning Dred Scott: Everyday Life at the Intersection of Race and Law in an Antebellum City. Jones is co-curator of the exhibition "Reframing the Color Line," with Clayton Lewis of the Clements Library.

ELISE LEMIRE is the author of two books on race in the antebellum Northeast. "Miscegenation": Making Race in America, originally published in 2002, was recently reissued in paperback by the University of Pennsylvania Press. Black Walden: Slavery and Its Aftermath in Concord, Massachusetts was published this past spring, also by the University of Pennsylvania Press. She is the recipient of several fellowships, including two year-long fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Educated at Yale and Rutgers and now Associate Professor of Literature at SUNY Purchase, Dr. Lemire is currently working on a book about the largest mass arrest in Massachusetts history, which took place when Vietnam Veterans Against the War attempted to camp on the Lexington Battle Green.

SAMUEL OTTER has taught in the English Department at the University of California at Berkeley since 1990. His research and teaching focus on nineteenth-century United States literatures. He is particularly interested in the relationships between literature and history, the varieties of literary excess, and the ways in which close reading also can be deep and wide. He has published Melville's Anatomies (1999), in which he analyzes Melville's concern with how meanings, particularly racial meanings, have been invested in and abstracted from human bodies. He recently finished a book entitled Philadelphia Stories, in which he examines the narratives about race, character, manners, violence, and freedom that unfold across a range of texts written in and about Philadelphia between 1790 and 1860.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Clements on the Air: 1949 Radio Show Featured Dramatizations of Library Materials

Did you know the Clements Library had a radio program in 1949? "Treasures Off the Shelf" was a 13-episode show on the Michigan radio station WUOM that featured dramatizations of materials from the collection. The subjects of the episodes were:
  1. Columbus returns to Spain & reports to the King and Queen
  2. Benedict Arnold offers West Point to the British
  3. Washington plans to trap Cornwallis at Yorktown
  4. Invasion from the north! General Burgoyne at Saratoga
  5. Sebastian Cabot in England
  6. Captain Thomas Morris prevents a second Pontiac War
  7. The Declaration of Independence is delivered to George III
  8. The siege of Fort Detroit, 1763
  9. Valley Forge, winter of 1777-78
  10. Battle of Quebec & death of General Wolfe
  11. The preliminaries at Yorktown
  12. Thomas Paine and the Battle for Trenton
  13. The surrender at Yorktown
Each episode focused on a document or book from the Clements Library and recreated the historical events surrounding it. The scripts were written by William Bender of WUOM, in cooperation with Clements Library staff, and read by actors recruited from the University of Michigan campus. Each Thursday evening the shows were recorded in front of audiences at the WUOM studios.

Highlights of the transcripts include this imagined conversation between William L. Clements and a book dealer:

Clements: Is that what I think it is?

Quaritch: The “Columbus Letter.” Printed in 1493 by Stevan Plaanck.

Clements: I am definitely interested.

Quaritch: Splendid. I have it right over here.
The transcripts and other materials from this radio show have been archived by the Bentley Historical Library in the records of the WUOM radio station. The collection includes a sound recording of episode 8, "The Long Siege," based on the diary of Jehu Hay.

No recordings of the other episodes are known to have survived. In 1950, tape copies were distributed to schools by the Audio-Visual Education Center at the University of Michigan. If you have any information about their whereabouts, please leave a comment on this post to let us know.

Citation: WUOM Records, 1914-1982, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Future of the Book Symposium, October 10, 2009

The Clements Library, The Special Libraries Association-U of M chapter, and the School of Information invite you to a fall 2009 interdisciplinary conference "Digital Book Debates" asking the question, "What is the future of the book?"

This event will be held in the Main Room of the Clements Library on October 10, 2009, 10:00-4:30. Clements Library Director Kevin Graffagnino will be participating in the first panel, "The Physical Book and Its Future."

Online registration is available through the official event website at Questions about the event can emailed to

Schedule of events

Registration and refreshments

Panel 1 Presentations - The Physical Book and Its Future- (Shannon Zachary, Kathy Beam, Kevin Graffagnino, Nicholas Theisen)


Lunch (On Your Own)

Panel 2 Presentations- The Current State of Digital Publishing (Maria Bonn, Phil Pochoda, Mary Sauer-Games, and Melissa Levine)



Panel 3 Presentations- The Future of Publishing and Collections (Richard Adler, Paul Hartzog, Nicole Garrett, and Eli Neiburger)


Closing Remarks