Featured Fellow: Rachael Pasierowska, 2018–2019 Friends of the APS Fellow

Each year, the Library at the American Philosophical Society hosts a rich intellectual community of scholars working on a wide-range of projects in fields including early American history, history of science and technology, and Native American and Indigenous Studies, among others. Read on to learn more about our fellows and their work at the APS. Additional information about our fellowship programming and other funding opportunities can be found here.

Project: "Beasts, Birds, and Bondsmen: Animal and Slave Interactions in Atlantic World Slavery"

woman standing next to statue on podium

Briefly describe your research project.

My dissertation "Beasts, Birds, and Bondsmen" is a trans-Atlantic study focusing on the relations and interactions between slaves and animals in the 19th-century slave societies of America, Brazil, and Cuba. European travelers drew frequent analogies between slaves and animals, be that in their social standing or phenotypically. Yet, through their perceptions of and relations with the animal world, African slaves demonstrated a dual humanization of both animal and slave in an environment that viewed them otherwise. Through interacting with animals, slaves sought to establish a notion of humanity, regardless of white attempts to animalize them. 

What collections did you use while working at the APS?

Travel accounts appear in all three slave societies—America, Brazil, and Cuba—that I am studying for my dissertation and offer an insight into slavery from the perspective of outsiders and it is almost wholly to these to which I conducted myself during my time at the APS. Celebrations among the enslaved, such as funerals, weddings, and multiple religious days of obligation, captured the attention of travelers who were often foreign to the institution of slavery. At the APS I continued to build on former research trips to archives in Rio de Janeiro, the American Antiquarian Society, and the University of Miami’s Cuban Heritage Collection by undertaking a detailed reading of these narratives to see the various ways with which slaves utilized animals’ bodies, and viewed animals, if the accounts document such information. Indeed, while the travel narratives are very numerous in quantity; unfortunately, the travelers do not frequently comment on the lives of the enslaved and when they do, their references to animals and slaves is even more limited! But, with perseverance and reading through a large number, I am slowly building a stronger foundation for the first part of my dissertation, which seeks to look at how Europeans and white slaveholders viewed their slaves in rather animalistic terms and vocabulary and treatment of their chattel and how such behaviours conformed with contemporary understandings of Africans in the natural order of the world. Moreover, a number of the accounts provide pictorial representations of the events described by the authors. I was fortunate in collating a good number of images and sketches from travel narratives at the APS, which I hope will enable me to incorporate visual culture into my dissertation and the staff at the APS were very supportive and relaxed in photographic endeavours.

What’s the most interesting or most exciting thing you found in the collections?

I found two really neat source references: the first, relating an account of a group of blacks who had caught a seal and were offering to sell this to a white traveler and collector of animals and various species. Moreover, I found multiple detailed references to and images of animals across Brazil and North America, which will take a fundamental part of my first introductory chapter, which looks at animals across the Atlantic World.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for future fellows or researchers?

Definitely give a Brown Bag presentation as this was a great opportunity for me to get some brilliant feedback from some really great thinkers and academics from across the academic sphere.

I would also really recommend trying to secure lodgings with the Library Company of Philadelphia as it was a great way for me to make friends with fellows at the LCP and the HSP. It is in the centre of Philadelphia and great access to the rest of the city and also within close walking distance to the APS (15 minutes).

Any suggestions for must-see places or things to do in Philadelphia?

This was my first trip to Philadelphia and so I tried to fit in as much tourist attractions as possible! I would definitely recommend the Mütter Museum (medical history), the Eastern State Penitentiary, the Museum of the Constitution, the Philadelphia Magic Gardens, the Museum of the American Revolution, the Wanamaker Organ (the world’s largest organ)—they do recitals during the week and it is free—the numerous parks and churches, the Polish cultural center, and, finally, just walking around the city and exploring all the visual arts. There are so many murals painted by local artists and I really enjoyed seeing these as I walked around the city. Most of these museums are really expensive (especially if you see all of them!), but if you say that you are affiliated with the APS, you can usually get free entrance into them. I found this out when I was a fellow at the American Antiquarian Society and was also able to do the same here, which saved me a lot of money as Philadelphia can get quite expensive.

Rachael Pasierowska is a dual doctoral degree student at Rice University, Houston, and the Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Campinas, São Paulo where she studies slavery in the Atlantic World. Her current research interests and dissertation focus on the relations between slaves and animals in the Atlantic World in the nineteenth century with a comparative focus on the three major slaving societies America, Brazil, and Cuba. Within this scope of research, she has looked at the spiritual symbolism associated with owls as harbingers of death in antebellum Georgia (published in article form in the Journal of Social History). Another paper explores the metaphorical representations of animals in the jongos sung by slaves in Brazil. Both projects draw heavily on oral history projects conducted in both countries in the twentieth century. She is also very interested in other aspects of the slave experience in the Atlantic world. In a second published article she explored the psychological turning point of the moment at which enslaved children in the antebellum South became cognizant of their slave status and what this represented for them in their childhood development (Slavery and Abolition). Other studies have looked at the urban slaves' use of inside and outside spaces in Rio de Janeiro's brotherhood churches and the naming patterns of European slave ships during the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade through the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. In addition to the APS, she has received fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society, Princeton University, and the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History.