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Recovering the life stories of the Zealy daguerreotype subjects

white man in dark jacket, blue shirt, Gregg Hecimovich
Gregg Hecimovich, professor and chair, Furman University Department of English.

Furman University’s Gregg Hecimovich, chair of the English department at the university, speaks with Henry Louis Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and director of Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, about the Zealy daguerreotypes housed in the Peabody Museum on campus. The photos of the South Carolina enslaved, commissioned by Harvard Professor Louis Agassiz in 1850, are said to not only rob the persons of their stories, but also their dignity.

Hecimovich has written a book chapter about the human beings behind the haunting images. Giving them voice, he uncovers details about their lives by delving into those of the slave owners.

“Like every figure who was photographed, I want to let them speak, as they do so vividly when you look at these daguerreotypes,” Hecimovich says during a Zoom talk with Gates.

Hecimovich’s chapter about the images appears in the book, “To Make Their Own Way in the World: The Enduring Legacy of the Zealy Daguerreotypes,” co-published by the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and the Aperture Foundation. Read more in the Harvard Gazette.

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