American Social History Project • Center for Media and Learning

Mary Niall Mitchell: Is There Anything More to See?

Published January 3, 2013

Mary Niall Mitchell, University of New Orleans
Civil War @ 150: Is There Anything More to See?
CUNY Graduate Center
November 3, 2011

In this seventeen minute talk, historian Mary Niall Mitchell uses less known and difficult to understand photographs to discuss the use of photography as propaganda during the Civil War. Abolitionists knew that they needed to “shrink the distance between the enslaved and the free” in order to reach their target audience, the white middle class. They harnessed an early form of documentary photography as the ideal medium with which to reach this broad public. Anti-slavery activists used staged studio portraits of white-looking children dressed not as ragged but rather Victorian. Before-and-after photos showed the move from rags to respectability. Mitchell says that these images represent “the Civil War we don’t remember”—a set of ideas about children, race, and photography that have not been part of the narrative. This talk was part of the public seminar: Is There Anything More to See?

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