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Grant number like: FEL-262293-19

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Martha Jane Cutter
University of Connecticut (Storrs, CT 06269-9000)

Research Programs

[Grant products]

$60,000 (approved)
$60,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
9/1/2019 – 8/31/2020

Slavery as Spectacle: The Lives and Afterlives of Henry Box Brown, the Slave Who Mailed Himself to Freedom

Completion of a book-length study on the life and abolitionist legacy of nineteenth-century performer and slave, Henry Box Brown (d. 1897).

“Slavery as Spectacle: The Lives and Afterlives of Henry Box Brown” has a double focus. The first half of this book scrutinizes the innovative performance work of an enslaved man named Henry Brown who mailed himself to freedom in the North in a large postal crate in 1849. He went on to perform as a singer, mesmerist, and magician, as well as in his own panoramic shows, in the US, England, and Canada until his death in 1897. Second, this book scrutinizes a fascination with Brown by contemporary artists who pay direct homage to him. Brown was ostracized in his own time by abolitionists due to his outlandish performance work, so why has he become a touchstone for many artists today? This project argues that Brown has become a hero in our own moment because of those factors that made him a pariah in his era:  his ability to turn slavery into a spectacle, one that he could manipulate in order to obtain a degree of psychological freedom from the haunting legacy of enslavement.