Identifying pictorial images of Atlantic slavery: Three case studies

2006 (J. S. Handler and A. Steiner) “Identifying pictorial images of Atlantic slavery: Three case studies.” Slavery & Abolition 27: 49-69.

During the last several decades, the number of publications on New World slavery and the Atlantic slave trade has increased tremendously. Sometimes these works are lavishly illustrated, but the illustrations are usually not taken directly from primary sources; rather, they are purchased from commercial photo libraries or are taken from secondary works which themselves have depended on commercial houses. Authors, especially of books or encyclopedias destined for a commercial market and wide general readership, pay insufficient attention (or no attention) to the historical and bibliographic contexts of the illustrations they use, and commercial photo libraries that sell images of slavery and the slave trade rarely give bibliographic information on their images; if they do, the information is often inadequate and misleading at best and inaccurate at worst. This article illustrates these points by focusing on three images that are often reproduced and argues that historical researchers should pay as much attention to the illustrations, and the context in which they were created, that accompany their publications as they do to citing the written sources upon which their research depends.

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