Martha J. Cutter, "The Illustrated Slave: Empathy, Graphic Narratives, and the Visual Culture of the Transatlantic Abolition Movement, 1800-1853" (U Georgia Press, 2017)


Slavery as a system of torture and bondage has fascinated the optical imagination of the transatlantic world for centuries. Scholars have examined various aspects of the visual culture that was slavery, including its painting, sculpture, pamphlet campaigns, and artwork, yet an important piece of this visual culture has gone unexamined: the popular and frequently reprinted antislavery illustrated books that were utilized extensively by the antislavery movement in the first half of the nineteenth century. The Illustrated Slave: Empathy, Graphic Narrative, and the Visual Culture of the Transatlantic Abolition Movement, 1800-1852 (University of Georgia Press, 2017) analyzes some of the more innovative works in the archive of antislavery illustrated books published from 1800 to 1852 alongside other visual materials that depict enslavement. The author argues that some illustrated narratives attempt to shift a viewing reader away from pity and spectatorship into a mode of empathy and interrelationship with the enslaved. She also contends that some illustrated books characterize the enslaved as obtaining a degree of control over narrative and lived experiences, even if these figurations entail a sense that the story of slavery is beyond representation itself. Through exploration of famous works and unfamiliar ones she delineates a mode of radical empathy that attempts to destroy divisions between the enslaved individual and the free white subject and between the viewer and the viewed. Author Martha J. Cutter is a Professor in the Department of English and in the Africana Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut. She received her Ph.D. in English from Brown University, and is currently the editor of the journal MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the U.S. Her previously book-length projects include Unruly Tongue: Language and Identity in American Womens Fiction, 1850-1930 and Lost and Found in Translation: Contemporary Ethnic American Writing and the Politics of Language Diversity. She has published articles in numerous academic journals and remains intrigued by the interrelationships between literary texts and cultural contexts.
James P. Stancil II is an educator, multimedia journalist, and writer. He is also the President and CEO of Intellect U Well, Inc. a Houston-area NGO dedicated to increasing the joy of reading and media literacy in young people. He can be reached most easily through his LinkedIn page or at

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