Racing the trans -Atlantic parlor: Picturing freedom in the early nineteenth century

Jasmine Nichole Cobb, University of Pennsylvania


I examine early nineteenth century "visual logics of race" to demonstrate how Americans were taught to "see" racial differences as self-evidentially visible. I argue that media materials representing performances of freedom among people of African descent offered an education in cultural values that dramatically transformed and over-determined social relationships in pre-Emancipation America. I explore this changing visual culture through the metaphor of the Victorian parlor, a "private" space designed for public entertainment. While Americans contemplated the abolition of slavery and White women's suffrage, seemingly innocuous materials of the parlor taught audiences of the Atlantic world how to visualize others and represent themselves. I argue that these parlors bear witness to different forms of racial reasoning, visualized in mass-produced materials shared among Philadelphians and exported to other cities and countries around the world. Using media culture, I argue that the way in which African American women relate to early media forms archives an evolving practice of spectatorship that transformed American visual culture with regard to race. With the emergence of these kinds of representation, I treat the antebellum era as a moment in which the codes of social conduct across race were most fragile and most open to refashioning in the progression out of transatlantic slavery. ^

Subject Area

African American Studies|Black Studies|Women's Studies

Recommended Citation

Cobb, Jasmine Nichole, "Racing the trans -Atlantic parlor: Picturing freedom in the early nineteenth century" (2009). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3395687.