AHCS Student Speaker Series #3 – Rach Klein & Chris Gismondi

Tuesday, March 2, 2021 16:00to17:30

We’re happy to invite you to the third event in this year’s AHCS Student Speaker Series, featuring two presenters: Rach Klein and Chris Gismondi, both PhD students of Art History at McGill. Rach will be presenting on "The Many Lives of David Drake's Earthenware: Engraved Poetry in 19th-century Edgefield," while Chris's talk asks "How did we get here? Whiteness in British-North American Slavery and Colonialism."

Please join us next week on Tuesday, March 2nd at 4PM EST (on Zoom) for two great presentations and, afterwards, a Q&A period––we look forward to your participation!

Zoom link coming shortly.

Rach Klein, The Many Lives of David Drake's Earthenware: Engraved Poetry in 19th-century Edgefield

Between 1820 and 1890, the Edgefield region of South Carolina, known informally as “Pottersville” or “Landrumsville,” produced thousands of earthenware pots, jugs, and tankards. Ranging in size from a few ounces to 40 gallons, these highly functional vessels were created primarily for use on plantations across the Southern States to store salted meat, syrups and other preserves. These remarkable vessels were largely created by enslaved African-born and African American artisans. Among the many unnamed creators and labourers, David Drake stands out as an anomaly. A literate turner, Drake engraved poetic couplets upon the pottery he created, ranging in themes from the romantic to the religious. This written documentation provides rare and precious insight into the firsthand perspective of an enslaved labourer working in the 19th century, when literacy laws forbidding slaves from writing and reading were strict and abundant. Situated through a material analysis, my project looks at the lifecycle of Edgefield vessels, beginning with the gathering of clay from South Carolina’s mineral-rich waterways, leading through the many steps of transformation from raw materials into functional pottery, and ending with the inevitable sweeping of broken shards. Each of these stages involves the labour and creativity of enslaved peoples, unnamed and unattributed, but whose lives and legacies are made material within the incidental smudges of glaze and fingerprints on clay––and, in the case of Drake, embedded in poetic verse.

Chris Gismondi, How did we get here? Whiteness in British-North American Slavery and Colonialism

Anti-racism issues are at the forefront of contemporary politics, life, and consumer culture. But the root causes of these attitudes stem from white supremacy fabricated during the period of transatlantic slavery and settler-colonialism. I analyze how this identity was constructed, policed, and depicted in British-North America to provide context for today’s anti-racism struggles. I analyze media like print culture, portraiture, and historical constructions like film to understand how whiteness operated, was disseminated, and is remembered. Within Canadian art history, cultural objects like slave-owners' portraits have remained largely untouched. Additionally, I follow scholars in positioning that “fugitive” or runaway slave advertisements are a form of portraiture for the enslaved, but also communicate much more about their authors. I am dedicated to analyzing both the systems of slavery and colonialism in tandem with unpacking the historical notions of whiteness. I blend portraits of slave owners with archival runaway slave advertisements from the Upper Canada Gazette, Philadelphia Gazette, and Kingston Gazette. British North American spaces like Upper Canada, Montreal, New York, and Philadelphia are all northern and temperate spaces largely removed from the imaginary of transatlantic slavery but that were also concurrently frontiers for settler colonialism.

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