American Corner Innsbruck

    Lecture by Prof. Mary N. Mitchell


    Dec. 3, 2008, 5 p.m.
    Room University of New Orleans, University Main Building

    Prof. Mitchell’s intriguing talk, which was hosted in cooperation with the Austro-American Society/Tirol and the The University of New Orleans/Center Austria started with an introduction to the historical context of the emancipation of slaves and the different reactions it elicited: Free people of color, for example, still doubted the possibility of freedom, fearing that they would never be granted American citizenship, former slaveholders were confronted with an unknown economic vulnerability, and the idea of educating former slaves was met with widespread opposition.

    However, the benevolent and abolitionist strata of northern societies responded to the slaves' newly gained freedom with a series of photographs, creating a parable that began with tattered slave children and ended with neatly dressed freedchildren integrated into the process of civilization. According to Prof. Mitchell, the numerous images of the 'ragged slave child redeemed' reveal the missionary ideal of emancipation but simultaneously present civilization as a spectacle to be consumed, blending emancipatory triumph with cardboard fancies which  convinced people of emancipation as a promising mission undertaken for beings capable of rescue and reform.

    These photographs either applied the discrepancy of the 'before and after'-effect or relied on tableau-like one-frame-narratives to emphasize the stunning effects of emancipation. This notion was additionally underscored by a typical absence of adult slaves and focus on children which was supposed to symbolize the hope and potential associated with freedchildren, as they embodied the promise of a better future for a new generation which would be spared the agonies and shackles of slavery. Finally, Prof. Mitchell also pointed out the striking rhetorical and visual similarities in the treatment of African American freedchildren and Native Americans which help to explain the reformers' intention of emancipating both minorities.
    (text: Andreas Leisner)

    Prof. Mary N. Mitchell is associate professor of history at the University of New Orleans and a specialist for slavery and emancipation in the US south and the rest of the Americas. Her recently published book “Raising Freedom’s Child: Black Children and Visions of the Future After Slavery” has been widely praised in the American public. Prof. Mitchell received her PhD from New York University in 2001 and has received fellowships and awards from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the American Studies Association, and the American History Association.

    The lecture was followed by a liveley discussion and a reception sponsored by members of the Austro-American Society/Tirol.


    hosted by
    Univ.-Prof. Dr. Gudrun Grabher, Dr. Margaret Davidson, Univ.-Prof. Dr. Franz Mathis

    American Corner Innsbruck
    Department of American Studies
    Herzog Friedrich Straße 3, 1. Stock (Altstadt, Claudiana)
    6020 Innsbruck

    T +43 512 507-7064, F +43 512 507-2879,