COOL CLASSES: “Visual Histories of the Civil Rights Movement”

This history course in which students students study Civil Rights-era images as artifacts, as part of archives, and pathways to visibility, solidarity, and justice.

Class name: Visual Histories of the Civil Rights Movement

Taught by:  Visiting Assistant Professor of History Paul Farber

Here’s what Farber had to say about his class:

This course examines the history and legacies of the U.S. civil rights movement through the framework of visual culture. We explore the relationships between racial struggle and spectacle; social action and image production/circulation; uplift and violence; and technological shifts and archival practices within the fields of photography, film, television, and print culture. To frame the course’s historical contexts, we began our semester with a grounding in 19th and early-20th century visual culture through photographic practices of emancipation and reflections on Frederick Douglass’ formulation that “poets, prophets, and reformers are all picture-makers,” before pursuing closer readings of images and documentaries from the 1950s, ’60s, and early ’70s.

I hope students gain historical knowledge on the course’s periodization of civil rights, to understand archives and actions of the past as well as grasp the present-day forms of urgent activism in the #BlackLivesMatter era. We also are engaging contemporary photographers, Jamel Shabazz and Scheherazade Tillet (pictured in her in-class visit, above), in dialogue about their work, to bridge understandings of the past and future of liberation images.

Civil Rights-era images signify in complex ways: they often function as the clearest portals to our historical knowledge of the period, they were produced and circulated in a period of analogue photography that differs from the techniques of our own digital age, and yet they feel uncanny and proximate to our current lived realities. I hope students study the images as artifacts, as part of archives, and as pathways to understanding strategies: toward visibility, solidarity, and justice.


See what other courses the History Department is offering this semester.

 Cool Classes is a series that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford experience.

Photo of Scheherazade Tillet in Farber’s class by Cole Sansom ’19.