Research

Our Bondage and Our Freedom

An international project celebrating the 200 year anniversary of the birth of African American activist and author, Frederick Douglass.

Struggles for Liberty in the Lives and Works of Frederick Douglass and His Family (1818-2018)

What is this research about?

Covers of three books related to this research
Books arising from Our Bondage and Our Freedom

Our Bondage and Our Freedom takes place in 2018-19 during the 200-year anniversary of the birth of Frederick Douglass, a formerly enslaved and self-emancipated African American activist and author.

A multi-media research project, it investigates the legendary example, not only of Frederick Douglass himself, but the under-researched lives of his daughters and sons: Rosetta; Lewis Henry; Frederick Jr.; Charles Remond; and Annie Douglass.

During the two-hundred year anniversary of his birth, and in a Black Lives Matter era, the Frederick Douglass needed now is no representative self-made man but a fallible, mortal individual. It was not only Douglass but his family members who despaired of “committing to paper the pain” they experienced as the “wounds upon the soul” defied textual or visual expression.

The intellectual and political responsibility is with academics, archivists, artists and activists to harness every intellectual tool available to tell the story not only of enslaved but of newly emancipated Black women, children and men experiencing freedoms that were in name only in a post- emancipation era.

For Douglass' rallying cry, “My Bondage and My Freedom” it is now possible to read: “Our Bondage and Our Freedom.”

Who is working on Our Bondage and Our Freedom?

Photo of Celeste receiving a citation
Celeste Marie Bernier (l) receiving a State of Maryland Governor's Citation from Lieutenant Governor, Boyd Rutherford. Image © Joe Andrucyk.

This international project draws together academics, activists, archivists and artists.

It is a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh, Walter O. Evans Foundation, National Library of Scotland, The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Maryland State Archives, the Banneker Douglasss Museum, the Black Studies Research Center at the University of California Santa Barbara and the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah.

Researchers in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC), Professor Celeste-Marie Bernier and Dr Andrew Taylor, are leading the University of Edinburgh’s involvement.

What activities are linked to this research?

Our Bondage and Our Freedom is aimed at specialist and general audiences.

Over the course of the project, the research team will be publishing and curating a series of US/UK books and exhibitions.

There will also be an academic conference and the delivery of guided exhibition and Edinburgh black history city tours and public educational programmes, as well as workshops on engaged scholarship and the free dissemination of educational learning guides and online resources on the histories of slavery and freedom for use in universities, schools, adult-learning environments and by all audiences.


At a glance, here’s the programme schedule:

December 2017 The book ‘Pictures and Power: Imaging and Imagining Frederick Douglass (1818-2018)’ edited by Celeste-Marie Bernier and Bill E. Lawson is published by Liverpool University Press.

Find out more on the Liverpool University Press website

Poster for a lecture series

February 2018 A new edition of Douglass’s ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave’, edited by Celeste-Marie Bernier is published by Broadview Press.

"Celeste-Marie Bernier has given us a view into the life of the Narrative and its author that is so full and intimate as to make this edition definitive by any standard" - Maurice Wallace, University of Virginia

“An outstanding edition from one of the world’s great Douglass scholars" - Robert S. Levine, University of Maryland

Find out more on the Broadview Press website

A programme of talks in the US and UK mark Frederick Douglass’s Birthday and US Black History Month. Celeste-Marie Bernier gives public lectures at the National Library of Scotland, at the Maryland State Archives, Annapolis (where she is awarded a Governor's Citation by the State of Maryland), and at the National Gallery of Art (NGA), Washington DC.

Watch the NGA lecture online

Listen to the NGA lecture online

‘Frederick Douglass: Slavery and Scotland’, an article in Books From Scotland’s Social Justice issue, marking the UN's Social Justice Day on 20th February, places Scotland at the heart of Frederick Douglass’ journey from slavery to freedom and looks forward to the publication of ‘If I Survive: Frederick Douglass and Family in the Walter O. Evans Collection’ by Edinburgh University Press.

Read the article on Books From Scotland’s website

August 2018 The book ‘If I Survive: Frederick Douglass and Family in the Walter O. Evans Collection’ by Celeste-Marie Bernier and Andy Taylor is published by Edinburgh University Press and launched in the US and UK. Featuring previously unseen speeches, letters, autobiographies, and photographs, it provides readers, for the first time, with a collective biography mapping the activism, authorship and artistry of Douglass and his sons, Lewis Henry, Frederick Jr. and Charles Remond Douglass. Celeste and Andy discuss the book, and their research, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Monday 20th August.

Find out more on the Edinburgh University Press website

September 2018 - April 2019 Celeste-Marie Bernier and Andy Taylor will be giving talks on Frederick Douglass and Scotland in the following places (more information and venues to be announced): Glasgow; Perth; Dundee; Abroath; Montrose; Paisley; Ayr; Kilmarnock; Greenock; Bonhill; Hawick; Galashiels; Coldstream; Kelso; Falkirk; Dalkeith; Montrose; Kirkcaldy; Aberdeen.

Photo of Celeste with the presenter and guests of In Our Time
Celeste (second from right) with Melvyn Bragg (l) and guests at the recording of BBC Radio 4's In Our Time: Frederick Douglass

October 2018 The Treasures Display, ‘Strike for Freedom: Slavery, Civil War and Emancipation: Frederick Douglass and Family in the Walter O. Evans Collection’, opens at the National Library of Scotland  (NLS) during Black History Month UK, and runs until February 2019. Situating Douglass and his family in relation to transatlantic abolitionism and black radical reform movements, it is the first display of its kind to show the family's manuscripts, letters and photographs, as held in the Walter O. Evans Collection.

Find out more about Strike for Freedom on the NLS website

November 2018 An academic conference, “Our Bondage and Our Freedom: Black Atlantic Authorship and Art (1818-2018)” is held at the University of Edinburgh and National Library of Scotland. 

February 2019 Companion US exhibits on Douglass’ sons' Civil War heroism will be on view at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (Washington D.C.) and on Douglass and the problem of black genealogical research at Maryland State Archives (Annapolis). 

February 2019 A one-day workshop will be held for academics and activists on Methodologies in UK/US Black Studies Research: Dialogues in Engaged Scholarship at University of California Santa Barbara Center for Black Studies.

Future events appearing in 2019-20:

  • A literary biography, ‘Living Parchments: Artistry and Authority in the Life and Works of Frederick Douglass’ by Celeste-Marie Bernier will be published by Yale UP (2019)
  • New Oxford World’s Classics Edition of ‘My Bondage and My Freedom’ by Celeste-Marie Bernier will be published (2019)
  • A collective family biography and newly found writings, ‘Struggle for Liberty: Frederick Douglass' Family Letters, Essays, Speeches and Photographs’ by Celeste-Marie Bernier will be published by Temple UP (2020)


Related links

Read more about the project, and explore its resources, on the Our Bondage and Our Freedom website