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Products for grant FEL-262293-19

FEL-262293-19
Slavery as Spectacle: The Lives and Afterlives of Henry Box Brown, the Slave Who Mailed Himself to Freedom
Martha Cutter, University of Connecticut

Grant details: https://securegrants.neh.gov/publicquery/main.aspx?f=1&gn=FEL-262293-19

“Performing Fugitivity: Henry Box Brown on the Nineteenth-Century British Stage” (Article)
Title: “Performing Fugitivity: Henry Box Brown on the Nineteenth-Century British Stage”
Author: Martha J. Cutter
Abstract: Henry Box Brown was a fugitive US slave who, in 1849, mailed himself from slavery in Virginia to freedom in Philadelphia in a large postal crate. Brown survived and went on to perform panoramas of his experience and stage shows involving magic, mesmerism (hypnosis), phrenology, and even dark seances in the US, the UK, and Canada. In 1857 in England, he also acted in semi-autobiographical plays written specifically for him by the minor British playwright E. G. Burton. The author of this essay has now recovered and transcribed these plays. By comparing these plays to other British drama in this period about slavery, the article argues that they are important in staging a Black, heroic figure who survives enslavement and arrives to freedom. Secondly, and more theoretically, the article contends that Brown’s performances in these dramas enact a challenging mode of performative fugitivity—of ‘running up against’ slavery and social death—and depict the enslaved obtaining a resistant mode of visuality. Brown therefore can be viewed as a radical performance artist who manipulates his own objectification to create a powerful multivalent onstage persona that cannot be precisely caught within a viewer’s ethnographic gaze.
Year: 2020
Primary URL: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/fsla20/current
Primary URL Description: Forthcoming Dec. 2020
Access Model: Subscription
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies
Publisher: Taylor and Francis

The Fugitive Gazes Back: The Photographic Performance Work of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth” (Article)
Title: The Fugitive Gazes Back: The Photographic Performance Work of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth”
Author: Martha Cutter
Abstract: Invisibilization has been theorized as a mode of disempowerment, yet for African Americans who have been hypervisualized it can become a locus of social or visual power. This article examines photographic portraits created by Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth to show how they visually perform versions of their identities. It argues that Douglass and Truth create complicated personae that allow them to question the realm of the visual through a performative avatar, while the “real” individual is protected or invisibilized by layers of disguise, manipulation, and performance. In so doing, they force the viewer to question visuality itself.
Year: 2021
Primary URL: https://journals.openedition.org/inmedia/?lang=en
Access Model: open access
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: InMedia: The French Journal of Media Studies
Publisher: under review: InMedia: The French Journal of Media Studies

The Many Resurrections of Henry Box Brown: The Man Who Mailed Himself to Freedom (Book)
Title: The Many Resurrections of Henry Box Brown: The Man Who Mailed Himself to Freedom
Author: Martha Cutter
Editor: Walter Biggins
Abstract: On March 23, 1849, a man named Henry Brown was nailed into a large wooden postal crate marked “this side up with care” and mailed from slavery in Richmond, Virginia to freedom in Philadelphia, PA, a voyage of two hundred and fifty miles. Twenty-six hours later, he emerged from this box singing a psalm of praise and he would never again be a slave. These sentences may sound like the start of a thrilling fictional story, but they are factual and well documented. They are also the only truths that many individuals today know about the man who later would become known as Henry Box Brown. Brown was, quite literally, the Slave Who Mailed Himself to Freedom, and from these scant details an entire mythology has grown up around him. As I show in this book, Brown went on to become an abolitionist lecturer, hypnotist, healer, singer, magician, ventriloquist, and actor, dying in Toronto almost fifty years after his escape-by-box (in 1897), after stints performing in the US, England, and Canada. He even had his own panorama of his escape—huge painted pictorial scrolls that he would unfurl on stage and narrate—and he toured the US and England with his panorama. This book excavates fragmentary elements of his story from his time, using archival documents, as Brown made himself a spectacle on abolitionist circuits via his outlandish performance work, and then fell off these same circuits and went on to recreate himself in other guises. His astounding life as a performer is documented in this book. I also have an eye in this book on Brown’s reinvention in our own time, and particularly in the last thirty years, when leading poets, writers, and artists have paid homage to him. Even though most contemporary artists know little about Brown other than the two sentences which start this proposal, they have felt compelled to engage in what I term boxology—a word that mixes mythology, mixology, and the idea of the box itself.
Year: 2020
Primary URL: https://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/
Primary URL Description: Home page for U. Penn Press.
Access Model: purchase from press and available through subscription archives
Publisher: Under Review: University of Pennsylvania Press
Type: Single author monograph
Copy sent to NEH?: No


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