Visual History and African American Families of the Nineteen Century

By Wells, Donna M. | Negro History Bulletin, October-December 1996 | Go to article overview

Visual History and African American Families of the Nineteen Century


Wells, Donna M., Negro History Bulletin


When photography was introduced to the world in 1839, it revolutionized the way in which Americans perceived themselves and how they would be perceived by others. Originally, the process of making photographs was only made known to artists and scientists. For scientists, photography became a tool for providing visual proof of findings and to support scientific theories about such issues as racial inferiority. Within the art world, photography provided artists a cheaper and faster medium for creating likenesses of their clients.

During the latter part of the nineteenth century, photography had developed into an important component of documentary work, especially for the new fields of study anthropology and sociology. The impact of photography on the African-American family, both as a means of livelihood and as visual record, has only recently received scholarly attention. Only within the last fifteen years have photo historians brought our attention to the contribution of African Americans to the photographic profession and only within the past ten years have publications been introduced that critique the way in which African Americans have been portrayed graphically throughout history.

The photograph collections in archival repositories focusing on African Americans, cover the realm of images involving African Americans either as photographer or as the subject. One of the richest areas for study of African-American social history are the photographs contained in personal papers and manuscript collections. Yet photographs continue to be used mainly as illustration for text rather than as a stand-alone resource or as a supportive document. Genealogists have long recognized the value of photography as a stand-alone document for research but that research usually centers around a single family history.

Genealogical research, when conducted within the context of African-American history using a variety of resources, offers a more encompassing perspective of the African American family in American society. In other words, our individual family photographs can provide a wealth of information about society in general.

Contemporary research in African- American history examines topics such as women's history, labor, the middle-class, urban life, science and invention, and religion. Family collections are a major source of information about these topics.

Why people take photographs has not changed much since its invention. Family collections are full of individual portraits and photographs of family milestones. Typical images include pictures of graduations, weddings, birthdays, family gatherings, the birth of a child or a photograph of the home. Daniel Freeman, a Washington D.C. photographer who operated at the turn of the century, also mentions the popular vanity shots which people still take with the single objective of having a visual record of the self that can be given to others. Tabletop displays and photo albums in the home of the nineteenth century family included images of family, landscapes, foreign scenes and photographs of celebrated leaders of the day. African-American families living during the nineteenth century took photographs for much the same reasons. They were as much treasured then as they are now, which is why so many of them have survived.

Prior to photography's debut, only the wealthy and the powerful could afford the services of an artist to paint their portrait. Photography provided an affordable means for many to obtain likenesses. In an 1864 speech on pictures, Frederick Douglass discusses the impact that the early photographic formats made on society:

This may be termed an age of pictures. The sun

in his course having fumed artist has flooded the

world with pictures. Daguerreotypes, ambro-types,

engravings and drawings, good, bad and

indifferent adorn and disfigure, and as frequently

the latter as the former, all our dwellings. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Visual History and African American Families of the Nineteen Century
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.