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Exhibition Highlights: Global Slaveries, Fugitivity, and the Afterlives of Unfreedom

By Pedro Machado and Olimpia Rosenthal

Please be advised: This blog post, along with the exhibition Global Slaveries, Fugitivity, and the Afterlives of Unfreedom, contains written and pictorial depictions of racialized violence and enslavement.

This fall, the Lilly Library has on display the exhibition Global Slaveries, Fugitivity, and the Afterlives of Unfreedom. The exhibition was curated by Professors Pedro Machado (Associate Professor, Department of History) and Olimpia Rosenthal (Associate Professor, Spanish and Portuguese), with assistance from Ursula Romero and others at the Lilly library. It is part of a Sawyer Seminar of the same name generously funded by the Mellon Foundation, which features various exciting events open to the general public, including research presentations and workshops with leading scholars in the field as well as a monthly reading group. You can find more about the Sawyer Seminar here.

In this blog post, exhibition curators Pedro Machado and Olimpia Rosenthal discuss six notable items from each of the thematically organized display cases.

Daily Life in 19th Century Argentina

An illustration depicting enslaved Black workers on a farm in Buenos Aires
Emeric Essex Vidal. Picturesque Illustrations of Buenos Ayres and Monte Video: Consisting of Twenty-four Views. Former Owner Bernardo Mendel. London: Published by R. Ackermann, 101, Strand, 1820.

These watercolors depicting 19th century society in Argentina are considered some of the earliest representations of the newly independent nation and its emerging visual culture. Vidal was an English watercolorist and naval officer who spent two years in Buenos Aires during the country’s war of independence from Spain. Vidal’s illustrations focus on daily life in Argentina, including the lives of enslaved Africans and Afro-descendants. Argentina received large numbers of enslaved Africans, particularly between 1778 and 1810. It is estimated that in 1810 around 30% of the population in Buenos Aires was enslaved.

This item is displayed in Wall Case 1, which is titled “Global Slaveries” and shows the complex multiplicity of histories of slavery in the Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and Pacific worlds, all major geographies of enslavement and unfreedom.

The Boxer Codex

A large foldout containing an illustration depicting a large ship with sails surrounded by smaller boats. On the ship are people in European dress. On the boats are nude people, some of whom are diving into the sea, fishing, eating, or paddling. A colorful boarder of birds and flowers adorns the top of the page.
Sino-Spanish codex (Boxer codex), ca. 1590. Boxer mss. II. Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

The Boxer Codex is a collection of primary sources (including illustrations) from various societies in the western Pacific, Southeast Asia, and East Asia. Initially written in Spanish or translated into Spanish from Portuguese during the late 16th century, the anthology was compiled in Manila, which was then an important Spanish colony and a key port in the Transpacific slave trade. It was purchased at an auction in 1947 by the renowned scholar of Portuguese and Dutch empire, Charles R. Boxer, who also taught at Indiana University. Only five of the twenty-two sections of the Codex are of known authorship.

There are several passages in the Codex describing slavery in Southeast Asia, including among “Moros” (then-unconquered Muslim regions of the Philippines) and Tagalogs (a community in Luzon, on the Northern part of the Philippines archipelago). The image displayed here does not pertain directly to slavery but illustrates the visual richness of this unique document. The item is on display in Case 1 of the exhibition, on “Processes of Enslavement and Forms of Violence.” The case addresses the various processes through which individuals or groups of people were enslaved, discusses key ports used to facilitate the global circulation of enslaved peoples, and links some of these processes with exploitative labor practices associated with key commodities like sugar, cotton, tobacco, gold, and pearls. 

The Surrender of Trelawny Town, Jamaica

An illustration depicting a group of Black members of the Jamaican village Trelawny Town, dressed in loin cloths and head wraps. They are meeting with a group of white Europeans in 18th century dress.
Bryan Edwards. An Historical Survey of the Island of Saint Domingo: Together with An Account of the Maroon Negroes In the Island of Jamaica; and A History of the War In the West Indies, In 1793 and 1794 (3rd ed.). London: Printed for John Stockdale, Piccadilly, 1801.

The engraving shown here, by the Italian painter Agostino Brunias, was printed in Bryan Edward’s account of the Second Anglo-Maroon War in Jamaica and was meant to illustrate the surrender of the maroon village of Trelawny Town in Jamaica. The town was a large maroon community established on land secured through a peace treaty from 1739. It had an estimated population of 928 men, women, and children by 1773, and its formerly enslaved inhabitants had partial autonomy in governance and the administration of justice. In 1795, significant tensions arose between the maroons and British colonial administration leading to the war. Edwards, an English politician who supported slavery, believed that the maroons should not have been allotted their own territory in the first place and praised their “pacification,” at times referencing the Haitian Revolution to strengthen support against the maroons.  

The item is displayed in Case 2, “Fugitivity, Runaway, and Maroon Communities” which offers various examples of acts of fugitivity that attest to acts of struggle and assertion to escape, refuse, and contest enslavement.  

Diagram of the Slave Ship Brooks

A large foldout from a book containing illustrations of the slave ship Brooks. The diagrams show the ways enslaved people were transported across the Atlantic, with all of them being laid side-by-side in extremely tight and inhumane conditions.
Thomas Clarkson. Grito De Los Africanos Contra Los Europeos, Sus Opresores, ó, Sea Rápida Ojeada Sobre El Comercio Homicida Llmado Tráfico De Negros. Translated from English into French and then Spanish by don Augustin de Gimbernat. Barcelona: Printed for José Torner, 1825.

Thomas Clarkson was a founding member of both the Committee for the Abolition of the African Slave Trade and the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade whose work contributed to abolitionist fervor in Britain. Clarkson would gather evidence from slave ships (handcuffs, brandishing irons, etc.) to use as visual evidence. The most famous came to be the sketch of the slave ship Brooks by William Elford. This horrific image had a significant impact and was disseminated widely, though recent scholarship argues that conditions on slave ships were even worse than depicted. 

This item is displayed in Case 3, “Abolitionism and Emancipation,” which discusses various processes of abolition—from the 16th through the 19th century—and stresses that although important rights have been obtained through these struggles the process of full emancipation remains incomplete.  

The Convict Ship Success

"Dungeons on solitary confinement deck of 'Success.' Several feet below the water line. Torrid in Summer and freezing in Winter."
Anonymous Author. The History of the convict ship “Success” and dramatic story of some of the “Success” prisoners: a vivid fragment of penal history. Publisher and Place unknown, 1912.

This work, written by an anonymous author, describes a mutiny aboard the Success, a ship involved in transporting convict laborers from Britain to Australia. That mutiny, which broke out soon after it was converted from a transportation ship to a floating prison, was caused by harsh discipline intended to prevent convict revolts. The resulting outcry ended the use of prison ships in Australia, and the Success would go on to tour the world as a grim tourist attraction.

This item is on display in Case 5 on “Unfree and Coerced Labor Practices,” which shows that slavery coexisted and was sometimes superseded by various forms of unfreedom that shaped—and continue to influence—social, political, economic, and labor relations.

The Black Panther Party Newspaper

The cover of The Black Panther newspaper from February 28, 1970. It contains a stylized illustration by artist Emory Douglass which depicts a Black man holding a gun, surrounded by other men also holding weapons. The text says "One of our main purposes is to unite our brothers and sisters in the north with our brothers and sisters in the south,"
The Black Panther Party Newspaper. Volume 3, No. 13, July 19, 1969 and Volume 4, No. 13, February 28, 1970. Art by Emory Douglass.

The official newspaper of the Black Panther Party was founded in 1967 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. It was initially published as a newsletter in Oakland, after the killing of Denzil Dowell by the Richmond Police. The newspaper was most popular between 1968 and 1972 and was sold in cities across the United States. It was published until 1980 and had a broad national and international readership. The newspaper disseminated information about the Party’s activities and values, denounced police brutality (as captured in this image) and other forms of oppression against African Americans, covered international events and revolutions, and was committed to community service, including the Free Breakfast for School Children Program.      

This final item is part of Wall Case 2 on “The Afterlives of Unfreedom,” which shows that histories of slavery and unfreedom around the world have left complex legacies that continue to shape our world today.

Global Slaveries, Fugitivity, and the Afterlives of Unfreedom. On exhibit August 14-December 15. Lilly Library.

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