Counter/Narratives: WashU & Slavery Crime Scenes

Exhibition Information

This installation at Olin Library reflects on aspects of Washington University's foundational relationship to enslavement by pulling several implicated places and people out of the shadows of our institutional history.

Counter/Narratives: (Re)Presenting Race & Ethnicity exhibit

WashU & Slavery Crime Scenes

The installation revisits this origin story by remembering O'Fallon mansion (above) as a site of racist violence and recontextualizing archived portraits of several foundational figures. Key here is a series of "mug shots" created by blending portraits of these figures with US census slave schedules enumerating their ownership of enslaved people. The (re)presentations build counter-narratives by subverting the visual aesthetics of fine art portraiture with the lines, notations, and other elements of their enslaver census records to visually invoke the cultural and psychological force of the “mug shot,” a punitive style of photographic portraiture that elites are rarely subjected to.

Critical criminologists note that the field of criminology grew in tandem with photographic portraiture, such that fingerprinting and photographic identification became proxies for ‘proof’ of wrongdoing, making “the mug mere instrument of identification then, but a social force with the capacity to affix stigma, shame and criminality on the body of the accused and the broader identity that the individual is thought to represent” (Linneman and Wall, 321-328). These enslaver mug shots counter historical erasure of these figure’s crimes against humanity and challenge us to face a shameful institutional relationship to slavery, and its implications today. 


  • John O'Fallon

    John O’Fallon, 1860 U.S. Census –Slave Schedules, St. Louis Township; John O’Fallon, Steel Engraving by A.H. Ritchie, 1883. Courtesy Missouri Historical Society. Photo composite by Ian Lanius.

  • Henry Shaw

    Henry Shaw, 1860 U.S. Census –Slave Schedules, St. Louis Township; Henry Shaw, Photograph by J.A. Scholten, ca.1882. Courtesy Missouri Historical Society. Photo composite by Ian Lanius.

  • Wayman Crow

    Wayman Crow, 1850 U.S. Census –Slave Schedules, 4th Ward City of St. Louis; Wayman Crow, Steel Engraving by Samuel Sartain, 1883. Courtesy Missouri Historical Society. Photo composite by Ian Lanius.

  • Interpretive text researched and written by Geoff Ward and Kelly Schmidt

  • Sources

    Lineman, Travis and Tyler Wall (2013), 'This is your face on meth': The punitive spectacle of 'white trash' in the rural war on drugs. Theoretical Criminology 17(3): 315-334.

  • Header image: Colonel John O'Fallon Residence in O'Fallon Park (Missouri Historical Society).