Program for Proclaiming Emancipation, held October 15 2012 - February 18 2013. This was a combination exhibit and symposium. Martha S. Jones and Clayton Lewis were Curators.
As we approach the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, commemorations can be a site for complex and nuanced reflections. They can also sanitize a messy past, making it palatable for popular consumption. Proclaiming Emancipation confronts myths with history. Oftentimes competing voices proclaim that no longer does Proclamation stand as an exceptional moment from the U.S. past. Instead, we understand January 1, 1863 as being situated on a timeline that stretches from the American Revolution of the 1770s to Brazil's abolition in 1888. That Proclamation signed in Washington, D.C., is set in a geography that extends from the Rio de la Plata in the South to the Saint Laurent River in the North.
The Emancipation Proclamation is not a sacred text with a fixed and transcendent meaning. Instead, it is a ground of contestation over core principles. Abraham Lincoln is not a great emancipator. Instead, Lincoln is but one character in an elaborate national drama. Still, to encounter the Proclamation is "awesome" as one student put it, as in awe-inspiring. Even as historians continue to layer ambiguity and complexity onto the story of slavery's abolition in the United States, the Proclamation remains an enduring touchstone. It has the capacity to draw record-breaking crowds and stop students in their tracks as they busily cross the campus. Proclaiming Emancipation harnesses the power of myth in the service of telling history, recognizing all the while that in the story of slavery and emancipation, the two are ever intertwined.
University of Michigan Law School; William L. Clements Library; and Jones, Martha S., "Proclaiming Emancipation" (2012). Event Materials.