Join host Claire Potter, guests Peter Kolchin and Rosanne Adderley, and author Amanda Bellows in conversation about unfree labor, culture, and the project of comparative national history.
The abolition of Russian serfdom in 1861 and American slavery in 1865 transformed both nations as Russian peasants and African Americans gained new rights as subjects and citizens. During the second half of the long nineteenth century, Americans and Russians responded to these societal transformations through cultural production in oil paintings, advertisements, fiction, poetry, and ephemera. Bellows analyzes their textual and visual depictions of slavery and serfdom, which shaped collective memories of unfree labor and influenced public opinion as peasants and freedpeople strove to exercise their freedoms.
In American Slavery and Russian Serfdom in the Post-Emancipation Imagination (University of North Carolina Press, 2020), Bellows highlights striking similarities between representations of enslaved African Americans and Russian serfs that were produced by elites in both nations as they sought to uphold a patriarchal vision of society. Russian peasants and African American freedpeople countered simplistic, paternalistic, and racist depictions by producing dignified self-representations that illuminated their traditions, communities, and accomplishments.