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The Face of Our Past : Images of Black Women from Colonial America to the Present. Edited by Hilary Mac Austin and Kathleen Thompson, with an introduction by Darlene Clark-Hine. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999, ill., 259 pages.

Reviewed by Donna M. Wells

     Since the 1970s, the field of women’s history has experienced a tremendous surge in research. The resulting scholarship encompasses all genre, from contributor’s history, narratives of the lives and contributions of women of distinction, to analytical treatises on the complexities of daily-life experiences. Darlene Clark-Hine, Elizabeth Clark-Lewis, Shirley Wilson Logan and other scholars of women’s history, have reconstructed the experiences of African American women, dispelling many of the myths and stereotypes attributed to women of color. Lagging behind in this process is the visual history.

     The Faces Our Past: Images of Black Women from Colonial America to the Present is a recent attempt to intersect portraiture with images of the daily life experiences of African American women. Authors Hilary Mac Austin and Kathleen Thompson have chosen to arrange the 302 images in the book chronologically within nine themes: family life, work, hair, resistance, class, education, religion and community, play, and inner life. Each theme introduces rare or unpublished engravings, paintings, and photographs depicting African American women from all walks of life. What results is a visual analysis of the dichotomy of life experiences in a variety of environments: past and present, rural and city, rich and poor, professional and lay.   The caption for each image is detailed and includes the title of the image, a brief description of the subject, date of the creation, the name of the creator, and an account of how the image was used. For example, an 1840 engraving of a female slave being whipped was used to expose the conditions of slavery to northerners.


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May 2000