Delia's Tears

Race, Science, and Photography in Nineteenth-Century America

Molly Rogers; Foreword by David W. Blight

View Inside Price: $45.00


May 25, 2010
384 pages, 7 x 9
36 b/w
ISBN: 9780300115482
Cloth

Also Available in:
e-book

In 1850 seven South Carolina slaves were photographed at the request of the famous naturalist Louis Agassiz to provide evidence of the supposed biological inferiority of Africans. Lost for many years, the photographs were rediscovered in the attic of Harvard’s Peabody Museum in 1976. In the first narrative history of these images, Molly Rogers tells the story of the photographs, the people they depict, and the men who made and used them. Weaving together the histories of race, science, and photography in nineteenth-century America, Rogers explores the invention and uses of photography, the scientific theories the images were intended to support and how these related to the race politics of the time, the meanings that may have been found in the photographs, and the possible reasons why they were “lost” for a century or more. Each image is accompanied by a brief fictional vignette about the subject’s life as imagined by Rogers; these portraits bring the seven subjects to life, adding a fascinating human dimension to the historical material.

Molly Rogers has published essays on the history of photography, and her fiction has been produced for theater and radio. She lives in the UK, where she teaches creative writing.

"In a book that is at once sensitive, bold, and imaginative, Rogers delivers a deep history of the causes, creation, and consequences of these now famous photographs. . . . If there ever can be a shared humanity with a shared historical memory, perhaps it can only emerge from seeing such evidence of its most brutal denial."—David W. Blight, from the Foreword

"Through Delia's Tears, a beguiling mixture of history and imagination, we see that the poisonous allure of racial thinking, often posing as reasoned objectivity, has always blurred our vision. This is a story that is as beautiful as it is sad."-Jonathan Scott Holloway, Yale University

“[Rogers’] well-researched history paints a rich panorama of the mental world of slavery.”

-- Publishers Weekly

“Rogers begins each chapter with a vignette imagining the lives of the slaves who were photographed as she explores the intersections of power, ideology, and imaging... fascinating.” 

-Booklist

"Rogers succeeds in humanizing photographs that were taken not to bring out the individual qualities of those photographed but in an attempt to confirm theories of human inequality."—Reginald Horsman, Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"[An] excellent work."—J. D. Smith, Choice

Selected as an Editor’s Choice by Booklist as one of the best titles published in 2010

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