National Geographic (February 19, 2023) – Abraham Lincoln is revered as America’s abolitionist president, but his thoughts about ending slavery were far from ideal. It would take the steady influence of the abolitionist movement and one of its leaders, Frederick Douglass, to guide Lincoln to becoming “The Great Emancipator”. Douglass was himself born enslaved and through the power of education became a giant that influenced American history.
Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, c. February 1817 or 1818– February 20, 1895) was an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, becoming famous for his orator and incisive antislavery writings. Accordingly, he was described by abolitionists in his time as a living counterexample to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.Northerners at the time found it hard to believe that such a great orator had once been a slave. It was in response to this disbelief that Douglass wrote his first autobiography.
Our Conservation Fellow, Kendall Francis takes a closer look at indigo, a blue dye and pigment extracted from the leaves of plants, and how it is used and represented in paintings in our collection.
Kendall’s research reveals histories that are not explicitly portrayed in the paintings and highlights the important contributions from a wider range of people, including the enslaved people who cultivated the crops and extracted the indigo against their will. Supported using public funding by Arts Council England.
Most historical accounts of slavery were written by colonists and planters. Researchers are now using the tools of archaeology to learn more about the day-to-day lives of enslaved Africans—how they survived the conditions of slavery, how they participated in local economies, and how they maintained their own agency. Host Sarah Crespi talks with Contributing Correspondent Lizzie Wade about a Caribbean archaeology project based on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and launched by the founders of the Society for Black Archaeologists that aims to unearth these details. Watch a related video here.
Sarah also talks with Jonathan Schulz, a professor in the Department of Economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, about a role for the medieval Roman Catholic Church in so-called WEIRD psychology—western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic. The bulk of psychology experiments have used participants that could be described as WEIRD, and according to many psychological measures, WEIRD subjects tend to have some extreme traits, like a stronger tendency toward individuality and more friendliness with strangers. Schulz and colleagues used historical maps and measures of kinship structure to tie these traits to strict marriage rules enforced by the medieval Catholic Church in Western Europe. Read related commentary.