In the second lecture of this public series, Dr. Charmaine Nelson’s lecture is called  “He is remarkable for…wearing a Handkerchief tied round his Head”: Resistance as Escape and Cultural Retention in Art and the Fugitive Slave Archive.

It is part of the series Representations of Colonization and De-Colonization. Drawing from art, museology, literature, science and philosophy, the series features lectures by leading international authorities exploring the exploitation, erasure, and systemic marginalization of Indigenous and Black peoples and their culture in Canada and abroad.

This series will explore topics such as: indigenous-settler relations, slavery in the north, decolonializing museums, indigenous knowledge in anti-colonial contexts, and intersections between slavery and colonial violence against the Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotians in the Atlantic provinces.

Dr. Charmaine NelsonDr. Charmaine A. Nelson, Provost Professor of Art History, Department of History of Art and Architecture and Director, Slavery North Initiative, University of Massachusetts – Amherst, USA


“Scholarship on Transatlantic Slavery has long benefited from the often-exhaustive data published in the fugitive slave archive. Ubiquitous throughout the transatlantic world, fugitive slave advertisements were commonly produced by white enslavers. Seeking to recapture their runaway “property,” standardized icons of enslaved males and females became a staple of such print advertisements. However, the more complex textual descriptions were also fundamentally visual and arguably comprise an archive of dubious, unauthorized “portraits” that have sadly come to stand as “the most detailed descriptions of the bodies of enslaved African Americans available.” (Graham White and Shane White, 1995, p. 49). Besides noting things like names, speech, accents, language, and skills, fugitive slave notices frequently recounted the dress (hairstyles, adornment, clothing etc.), branding, scarification, mannerisms, physical habits, and even the gestures and expressions of runaways. These advertisements also routinely disclosed the bravery, intelligence, and resilience of individuals who fled, alongside elements of their cultural practices, their retention of African dress traditions and their adaptation under the burdens of creolization. Through a comparative analysis of the dress practices of enslaved black subjects in fugitive slave advertisements, painting, and sculpture, this lecture examines resistance as flight and African cultural retention and self-care in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”

If you missed Dr. Nelson’s lecture please enjoy it here: