Exhibitions

THE JOHN CARTER BROWN LIBRARY staff and invited curators prepare public exhibitions of material selected from the collections.


Rooms of their Own: Dwellings of the Enslaved and the Free in the Early Americas is on view in the MacMillan Reading Room through April 2018.

The physical structures that housed those who lived in slavery in the early Americas are a potent symbol of the dehumanization of the millions of Africans and people of African descent whose labor built New World plantation societies. They are also a tangible embodiment of the social and economic system that left them at the mercy of profit-driven slave-holders. Slaves’ dwellings, like other features of the everyday material culture of the enslaved (including clothing and food preparation), represented the paradoxical point of convergence between the self-interest of planters and the self-interest of the enslaved. Planters who wished to spend as little as possible on housing their labor force often left the construction of these houses to the enslaved themselves, who, attempting by these means to improve the quality of their lives, have left traces of earlier and parallel models of architectural forms. 

Using items from the John Carter Brown Library’s unparalleled collections on the history of slavery in the Americas, this exhibition presents a narrative of slave dwellings that ranges from El Mina – the fifteenth-century slaving fort on the Gold Coast (now Ghana) – through the Middle Passage to plantations that represented, in the words of W.E.B. DuBois, a veritable descent into hell in a New World. The exhibition focuses on construction techniques used to build plantation slave dwellings, the domestic activities that took place within them, and the ways in which slave dwellings formed part of a larger colonial built environment. Finally, the exhibition questions the hegemony of plantation hierarchies, presenting evidence that points to alternative social arrangements in plantation America. With an eye toward the legacies of slavery, it ends by considering slavery and housing in the nineteenth century, as old metropole-colony political structures collapsed through revolution and new republican nation-states built on and through slavery emerged.

The exhibition was curated by Bertie Mandelblatt, Curator of Maps and Prints at the JCB.

Wars on Paper is on view in the Bolívar Room of the JCB. Curated by Marcela Echeverri (Yale University), this exhibition illustrates the five discursive and literary dimensions of the war of independence in South America, highlighting the ways in which the printed word was instrumentalized by contending sides. We explore the language of the monarchical restoration; insurgent reactions and counterpoints; the rise of a narrative of military events; circulation of texts that show the connectedness of revolutionary events in South America, the Caribbean and across the Atlantic; and radical legal transformations to the legal definitions of indigenous people and slaves that resulted from their integration in the independence project.

Recent exhibitions may also be visited virtually. The online version serves as a record of an exhibition and ensures that our audience will be able to view the treasures of the John Carter Brown Library from any place on earth with internet access. Many of these books may be seen in their entirety online on the JCB's Internet Archive site.

August to November 2007
Susan Danforth
March to August 2007
Rick Ring and Ted Widmer