Thursday, April 14, 2011

Influential Historian of Slavery to Explore Little-Known Winslow Homer Painting

CHESTERTOWN— In Winslow Homer’s 1866 painting, Near Andersonville, a group of tired, dusty men in blue are marched down a country road toward the infamous Confederate prisoner of war camp at Andersonville, Georgia. In the foreground, an enslaved woman stands at the door of her cabin, watching and waiting.
On Thursday, April 28, in an illustrated talk at Washington College, distinguished historian Peter H. Wood will use this image – one of Homer’s most striking, yet least-known works – to discuss the tumultuous final two years of the American Civil War. Sponsored by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, and co-sponsored by the Department of Art and Art History and the Black Studies Program, “Near Andersonville: Winslow Homer’s Civil War” is free and open to the public. A book signing will follow the talk, which will begin at 5 p.m. in Litrenta Lecture Hall, John S. Toll Science Center, on the Washington College campus, 300 Washington Avenue.
Wood, one of this generation’s most influential historians of the African American experience, will be in residence at Washington College April 23-30 as the Starr Center’s 2011 Frederick Douglass Visiting Fellow. An emeritus Professor of History at Duke University, he is the author/editor of six books, including Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion. Originally published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1974, Black Majority remains a landmark book, credited with setting the stage for a new generation of scholarship on American slavery.

More recently, Wood has turned his attention to visual representations of African Americans in the artwork of Winslow Homer, authoring three books on the subject. The third installment in this trilogy, Near Andersonville: Winslow Homer’s Civil War, was released by Harvard University Press in 2010. Acclaimed Civil War historian James M. McPherson called the book “powerful and compelling,” and Harvard University’s John Stauffer raved, “part detective story, part history, and part art criticism, this book is a masterpiece.”
Unknown to art historians for nearly a century, Near Andersonville languished in a New Jersey attic for years before being donated to the Newark Museum in 1966. “This is undoubtedly one of Winslow Homer’s most complex images,” said Starr Center director Adam Goodheart. “In placing the Union troops and the enslaved woman side by side, it sheds new light on the ambiguities of 1864.”
A graduate of Baltimore’s Gilman School, Peter H. Wood earned his doctorate at Harvard University and has held fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Charles Warren Center at Harvard University. His other books include Strange New Land: Africans in Colonial America (2002), Winslow Homer’s Images of Blacks: The Civil War and Reconstruction Years (1989), and Weathering the Storm: Inside Winslow Homer's Gulf Stream (2004).
Established through a generous gift from Maurice Meslans and Margaret Holyfield of St. Louis, the annual Frederick Douglass Visiting Fellowship brings to campus an individual engaged in the study or interpretation of African-American history and related fields. Besides providing the recipient an opportunity for a week of focused writing, the fellowship also offers Washington College students exposure to some of today's leading interpreters of African-American culture. During his week in Chestertown, Wood will speak with students and faculty about his research on visual representations of African Americans, and his experience interpreting African American history to a broad public.
Founded in 1782 under the patronage of George Washington, Washington College is a private, independent college of liberal arts and sciences located in colonial Chestertown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The college’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience is dedicated to fostering innovative approaches to the American past and present. Through educational programs, scholarship and public outreach, and a special focus on written history, the Starr Center seeks to bridge the divide between the academic world and the public at large. For more information on the Center, visit