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Phillip Troutman
George Washington University (Washington, DC 20052-0001)
The Radical Visual Rhetoric of American Abolition in the 1830s

The completion of two chapters of a book on images in abolitionist publications during the 1830s.

My book project, ‘Incendiary Pictures,’ is the first to analyze American abolitionist image-making in the full context of its formative decade, the 1830s, arguing that its visual rhetoric was creative and its ideology radically interracial, with image-makers attending self-consciously to their own motives, methods, messages, and audiences. Scholars focusing on 1840s-1850s images interpret them as patronizing, objectifying, sentimentalizing, and exploitative. By contrast, I show that in the 1830s, abolitionist visual rhetoric asserted African American agency and subjectivity, interracial collaboration and action, and civil rights. By attending closely to each creator’s ideology and by taking cues from W. T. J. Mitchell’s question, “what do pictures want?”—in the double sense of demanding and lacking—I show how abolitionists creatively exploited images’ power to persuade but also self-consciously acknowledged the limits of any image to convey slavery’s full brutality.

Project fields:
African American Studies; American Studies; U.S. History

Summer Stipends

Research Programs

$6,000 (approved)
$6,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
6/1/2018 – 7/31/2018