In 1850 Harvard professor and biologist Louis Agassiz commissioned a study in scientific racism. The resulting images of Jem, Alfred, Fassena, Delia, Jack, Renty, and Drana, a group of people of African descent enslaved in South Carolina, are now known as the Zealy daguerreotypes and have become critical artifacts in the study of enslavement and racism in American history. The images were first discovered by the staff of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in the mid-1970s.
A new book co-published by Aperture and Peabody Museum Press, “To Make Their Own Way in the World: The Enduring Legacy of the Zealy Daguerreotypes,” focuses on the challenges and possibilities of examining these images. The volume is edited by Molly Rogers, Deborah Willis, and Ilisa Barbash, and features articles by Harvard faculty including Henry Louis Gates Jr., Sarah Elizabeth Lewis, John Stauffer, and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, and a photography series by artist Carrie Mae Weems.