Lyneise Williams

Lyneise Williams, Associate Professor of Art History @ UNC Chapel Hill

DATE:  Thursday Nov. 9, 4:45 — 6:00pm

LOCATION: Hornbake Library North — Room 0302J


Erasure: Glamorous Misdirections, and Technical Obliterations in Early-lateTwentieth Century Mass Media


Digitized images, particularly images appearing in newspapers, are critical components of the digital humanities. The digital projects that draw upon the “Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers” database, a collaboration between the National Endowment of the Humanities and the Library of Congress, are too numerous to count. The benefits of such databases and projects include the dissemination of image-filled documents to global audiences, and the recognition of previously little-known publications, among many others. However, the digitizing process severely impacts the appearance of visual images in mass media forms like printed newspapers before the 1990s—especially images featuring people with black phenotype. The subtle details characterizing photography are minimized and often erased. Black faces are frequently, barely discernible. Skin reads like a blotchy, rough, patchwork of crude textures. The digitizing (and microfilming) processes involve the translation of images from one medium to another. The word translation is significant. Translating an image involves varying degrees of image transformation. In other words, translation changes the way an image appears. In the case of digital and microfilm image translation, the difference between the printed newspaper object and the digital image is stark and damaging. And yet, digital projects circulate and disseminate distorted representations of Black people to the far reaches of the world. This presentation explores the racial implications of the digitizing and microfilming processes—which are at the center of digital humanities. This kind of investigation has never been a part of conversations about these image translation processes, which have steadily replaced printed newspapers in libraries and archives since the 1940s in the US. Finally, I point out the ways the digitizing process and its accompanying archival practices undercut and eliminate possibilities for new research questions about mass-produced visual representations of Black populations and enable the misrepresentation of their portrayal in the US.


Lyneise Williams is an Associate Professor of Art History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Ph.D., Yale 2004). She is the author of Latin Blackness in Parisian Visual Culture, 1852-1932, (February 2019, Bloomsbury Academic), which examines how Parisians’ visual iconography of Latin Americans in popular imagery inextricably links blackness to Latin American identity beginning in the mid-nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century. Three case studies focusing on the imagery of Cuban circus entertainer, Chocolat, Panamanian World Bantamweight Champion Alfonso Teofilo Brown, and Black Uruguayans by Uruguayan painter, Pedro Figari, demonstrate the way this strategy was reconfigured in portrayals of phenotypically black Latin Americans, and argue for a nuanced reconsideration of blackness in early twentieth century Paris. Her second book project, which continues to tease out Hispanophone components in French Atlantic Studies, explores the intersection of male beauty, masculinity, sports, and the black male body through the images and performances of Alfonso Brown in 1920s and 30s Paris. She has published articles on the paintings of Uruguayan artist Pedro Figari, the depictions of Panamanian boxer Alfonso Teofilo Brown, as well as on African art and hip-hop jewelry. Williams has curated exhibitions on African art, and she is a member of the team selected from an international competition to design the North Carolina Freedom Monument Project in Raleigh, North Carolina.