Day Six:

Monday, June 24
Visibility and Slavery: Situating Harriet Jacobs


Beginning in 1849, the author Harriet Jacobs - who had recently escaped from southern slavery - spent eighteen months working in an antislavery reading room and bookstore above the offices of Douglass's newspaper in Rochester, New York. During her time there, Jacobs developed ties to the activist networks of the western New York region, including the Quaker abolitionists Amy and Isaac Post. With their encouragement, Jacobs later wrote the important memoir Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), which describes her experiences as a slave in Edenton, North Carolina. Incidents includes a gripping account of the seven years Jacobs spent hiding in the garret of her grandmother's home in order to escape harassment and persecution by her master while remaining close to her children. We will discuss Incidents and reflect on the relation between the artifacts concerning slavery, abolition, and the visible emblems of democracy at Kroch library and the readings from the previous week. In the afternoon, we will visit the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art where curators will have arranged a special exhibit by contemporary women artists such as Kara Walker, whose work comments on the struggles of women in the nineteenth century United States.

Tentative Readings:

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1862); Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book”

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Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this seminar do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

View of the Erie Canal by John William Hill (1829)