Posted by: rebeccakilroy | November 10, 2021

Harvard’s Daguerrotype Debate

There’s a really interesting case in the Massachusetts Supreme Court right now about a set of daguerrotypes that Harvard owns. The images show two enslaved people and were taken on a South Carolina plantation in the 1850s as part of a Harvard experiment to photographically document racial categories. A descendent of the people pictured is suing for the right to own their ancestors’ image. The case has set off a debate over who owns a photograph, the creator or the subject? Does that relationship change when the photo was taken without consent? It’s also made complicated by the fact that daguerrotypes are their own one-of-a-kind artifacts rather than just abstract reproducible images. I found this incredibly interesting, especially in light of our class conversation yesterday about the famine images. Anyone who’s curious, here’s the link to the Washington Post article where I first learned about it:


  1. Thank you for sharing this, Rebecca! This is a really interesting and important read.

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