Author Talk: Deborah Willis, PhD | “The Black Civil War Soldier: A Visual History of Conflict and Citizenship”

Author Talk: Deborah Willis, PhD | “The Black Civil War Soldier: A Visual History of Conflict and Citizenship”

Join us for a conversation with Deborah Willis, PhD, author of The Black Civil War Soldier: A Visual History of Conflict and Citizenship (NYU Press, 2021) and art historian Sarah Lewis. Dr. Lewis will discuss her essay "The Insistent Reveal: Louis Agassiz, Joseph T. Zealy, Carrie Mae Weems, and the Politics of Undress in the Photography of Racial Science" in To Make Their Own Way in the World: The Enduring Legacy of the Zealy Daguerreotypes.

Though both the Union and Confederate armies excluded African American men from their initial calls to arms, many of the men who eventually served were black. Simultaneously, photography culture blossomed—marking the Civil War as the first conflict to be extensively documented through photographs. In The Black Civil War Soldier, Deb Willis explores the crucial role of photography in (re)telling and shaping African American narratives of the Civil War, pulling from a dynamic visual archive that has largely gone unacknowledged.

Receive 30% off with the code WILLIS30 when you order this book through NYU Press.

Deborah Willis is University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and has an affiliated appointment with the College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Social & Cultural Analysis, and Africana Studies. Willis is the author of Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the PresentReflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers - 1840 to the PresentLet Your Motto be Resistance – African American PortraitsEnvisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery with Barbara Krauthamer; and Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs. Both Envisioning Emancipation and Michelle Obama received NAACP Image Awards.


Sarah Elizabeth Lewis is an associate professor at Harvard University in the Department of History of Art and Architecture and the Department of African and African American Studies. She is the founder of the Vision and Justice Project. Lewis has published essays on race, contemporary art, and culture, with forthcoming publications including a book on race, whiteness, and photography (Harvard University Press, 2021), Vision and Justice (Random House), an anthology on the work of Carrie Mae Weems (MIT Press, 2021), and an article focusing on the groundwork of contemporary arts in the context of Stand Your Ground Laws (Art Journal, Winter 2020). In 2019, she became the inaugural recipient of the Freedom Scholar Award, presented by The Association for the Study of African American Life and History to honor Lewis for her body of work and its “direct positive impact on the life of African-Americans.”

This program is part of the Black Lives Always Mattered! public program series at the Blockson Collection, which has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Presented via Zoom Webinar: 

Free and open to all, registration is encouraged. 

Contact Leslie Willis-Lowry at with questions.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021
2:00pm - 4:00pm
Registration has closed.