New Books Network

Matthew Fox-Amato

Exposing Slavery

Photography, Human Bondage, and the Birth of Modern Visual Politics in America

Oxford University Press 2019

New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in CommunicationsNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in PhotographyNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network April 25, 2019 Christine Lamberson

Shortly after its introduction, photography transformed the ways Americans made political arguments using visual images. In the mid-19th century, photographs became key tools in...

Shortly after its introduction, photography transformed the ways Americans made political arguments using visual images. In the mid-19th century, photographs became key tools in debates surrounding slavery. Yet, photographs were used in interesting and sometimes surprising ways by a range of actors. Matthew Fox-Amato, an Assistant Professor at the University of Idaho, examines the role of photography in the politics of slavery during the 19th century and the important legacies of those uses on later visual politics in his new book, Exposing Slavery: Photography, Human Bondage, and the Birth of Modern Visual Politics in America (Oxford University Press, 2019). The book examines the use of photographs by slaves, abolitionists, slaveholders, and Union soldiers to explore the rich complexities of the visual politics of the moment. He also considers the legacies of this use of the new medium.

In this episode of the podcast, Fox-Amato discusses the ways these various groups used photography for individual purposes and to shape the debates surrounding slavery in the antebellum period. He explains how photographs also highlight how union soldiers were beginning to think about a post-slavery racial hierarchy during the war. The book demonstrates the importance of thinking about photographs as both visual images and material objects. In the interview, Fox-Amato discusses the research necessary to analyze the photographs in both these ways and the broader importance of studying visual and material culture in all their historical complexity.


Christine Lamberson is an Associate Professor of History at Angelo State University. Her research and teaching focuses on 20th century U.S. political and cultural history. She’s currently working on a book manuscript about the role of violence in shaping U.S. political culture in the 1960s and 1970s. She can be reached at clamberson@angelo.edu.