Comp Lit 203- Archival Research Group Assignment

Group Members: Isabel Dirsa, Emma Brandenburg, Ella Flapan-Feig, and Hana Miloslavic (Discussion 301)

Item Annotations

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Photos taken from UW-Madison Memorial Library Special Collections

This item is a children’s version of the antislavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin written by Mary E. Blain and illustrated by Huge Von Hoftsten. The novel is formatted to function as a chapter book, but includes pictures and picture captions interspersed throughout. In terms of the novel’s content, the premise of this story that was gathered from the short time available to research this item, was that Mr. Shelby, a slave owner in the South made financial mistakes that caused him to have to sell two of his slaves in order to keep his house and land. These two slaves, Tom and Henry, had always been very good to Mr. Shelby, and were treated as though they were a part of the Shelby family. This choice of trade came as a shock to Eliza, Harry’s mother who was also enslaved to the Shelby family. The night before the trade, Eliza and Harry ran away to avoid being seperated by the trading of Harry and escaped with their father George to Canada for safety and freedom. 

This novel is written in a way that makes it seem as though the life of a slave was heroic, fantastical, and unrelatable- a perfect adventure novel for children. This is understood in particular through the scene of Eliza jumping onto the ice of the river on her journey to freedom. As a reader, there is a sense of wonder at the feats that Eliza had to achieve in order to escape from the South, but with this also comes a very distant relation to Eliza and what she is truly having to go through. This is written in a way that tells the story of a slave from a very distant lense, not really allowing the reader to have any particular emotional connection other than excitement and enthusiasm in rooting for Eliza’s escape. 

Another interesting aspect of this novel is not the writing itself, but the pictures included within the chapters of the book. Although this is an antislavery novel, the characters in this book are drawn differently based on the color of their skin. An example of this is the picture of Topsy and Ms. Ophelia included near the beginning of the novel. Ms. Ophelia in the picture, is given facial features that are drawn according to scale, and seem “normal” in comparison to the rest of her body. However, when looking at Topsy, certain parts of her are drawn in a way that seems “off” with features such as her eyes and mouth more enlarged and grotesque. In connection to the blog written by Phillip Nel, it is apparent that the pictures within this novel are a perfect example of “racial ideologies hidden in plain sight” (Nel). Nel explains that, “What we learn as children shapes our world view more profoundly as we are still in the process of figuring out who we are and what we believe. For this reason, children’s toys, books, and culture are some of the most important influences on who we become” (Nel). Within this novel, although it is written with anti-slavery intent, understanding the pictures chosen to represent the characters, it still has the potential to influence child behavior and cognition when it comes to racial bias. 

This is important to how girlhood is represented in connection to the pictures included in the novel of both Eva and Topsy. Topsy represents African American girlhood in this piece of literature, and is given features that resemble more of a caricature than a human being. In addition, one of the first pictures we see of Topsy, is her being “dragged” by Ms. Ophelia which also plays on the notion of her being “less” than human. In contrast, Eva is drawn in a way that seems “normal” to the human eye and is given authority and a voice in the pictures she is in. Understanding how children’s literature influences who children believe themselves to be, the depiction of Ms. Ophelia, Eva, and Topsy in this version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin has the potential to impact how young girls believe themselves to be.

Blain, Mary E., et al. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Barse and Hopkins, 1900.

Nel, Philip. “The Archive of Childhood, Part 2: The Golliwog.” Nine Kinds of
Pie, 13 Jan. 2015,

The Doll Test

Video Clip of The Doll Test:

This is a video clip from an experiment done in the 1940s by Doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clark. They conducted a series of experiments called “doll tests” to study the psychological effects of racial segregation on African American children. The video involves a child being shown two dolls. One, white with blonde hair, and the other, brown with dark hair. The child was asked questions such as which was the prettier doll, which one they would play with, which one is nice and which is bad, etc.

Kenneth and Mamie were both African American doctors who were determined to understand children’s racial biases and the effects of it. As very clear in the video, most of the African American children favor the white doll over the black doll. It is also important to note that “In 1954 in Brown v Board of Education, the experiment helped to persuade the American Supreme Court that “separate but equal” schools for blacks and whites were anything but equal in practice and is therefore illegal or against the law. It marked the beginning of the end of Jim Crow” (“Real or Imaginary?”).

The African American doll sits in the Brown v. Board of Education Historic Site today as a symbol of transformative laws in American History. I am not exactly sure where the original video is located or how these new videos were obtained.

This piece is interesting because it is such a huge symbol of the history of racial segregation and the start of new legislation being put in place. This video and these dolls are important for our study of American Girls and Girlhood for a few reasons. Even though the subjects of the experiment were not all young girls, they were all young children who have clearly been impacted greatly by the outside world. In our study of childhood and girlhood, we can see how children really pick up what is around them and they aren’t just oblivious to everything. I also think this is interesting because it is using dolls in a different way than just for “harmless” play. These dolls represent real humans and that is how these children see them. 

Blakemore, Erin. “How Dolls Helped Win Brown v. Board of Education.”, 27 Mar. 2018,

“Kenneth and Mamie Clark Doll.” National Park Service, 10 Apr. 2015,

“Real or Imaginary? The Psychological Effects of Racism on Blacks and Whites.” Education for Life Academy,

“The Significance of ‘The Doll Test.'” NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund,

“The Guardian” Image

This item is a photo taken in 1990 by artist Earlie Hudnall Jr. It is a gelatin silver print photograph and sits in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Hudnall is known for taking pictures of children and elderly people, as he believes there are similarities between these two groups of people as it relates to the past and future. In this picture specifically, Hundall photographs a young girl with a younger man who seems to exist in the role of her guardian or parental figure. The male is positioned in the picture in a way that seems to represent pride, not in an individualistic or selfish way, but pride in what he is choosing to fight for and who he is protecting. The American Flag tucked behind his ear directly connects the fight that he is fighting to what he believes America should fight for as well. The flag also creates tension in the picture as it makes the viewer wonder why the flag, which represents freedom and prosperity, has the potential to exist in the picture as a way to possibly fight for things it already is supposed to represent. The other person in this picture is a young girl. She looks to be happy and hopeful through her smile and dreamy eyes

During the time that this picture was taken, African American males were depicted negatively in the media as being violent, irresponsible, and criminal. This type of representation caused bias and a complete misunderstanding of this population of people which brought about larger systematic injustice. “In 1990, the year of Hudnall’s photograph, about 2.3 million black men and boys were incarcerated while about twenty-three thousand graduated from college (a ratio of 99:1, compared with the 6:1 ratio for whites)” (“Oh Freedom!”). This picture was a response to what was typically seen in the media during that time as an opportunity to combat assumptions driven by media representation.

This piece is significant when working to understand American Girls and American Girlhood as the picture itself highlights the relationship between a girl who we assume to be living in America and a male guardian. In this picture, the relationship between an African American girl and a male figure is highlighted through the way in which his arms are wrapped around the girl, and the demeanor of his body language which exudes the pride he has for taking care of and protecting this girl. This picture itself is titled: “The Guardian,” as the male figure in this picture seems to be guarding and looking after this small girl touching on the notion of innocence and familial relationships between a male guardian and a young girl. This relationship was mentioned on in the novel Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, as the main character Linda’s father was connected to Linda because of all that they had been through together, but occasionally made mistakes that were attributed to the way in which as a father figure, he was never able to take care of Linda due to the system of slavery and the way in which he was continually at a loss for control as it came to his role as a parent. In this picture, it is evident that the male figure has the rights to protect this little girl, however, it still seems as though the two are together fighting for something greater than themselves. In this case, the relationship between the male figure and the girl is one of protection as her “guardian.” 

“About the Museum.” Smithsonian American Art Museum,

“Oh Freedom! Earlie Hudnall Jr.” Smithsonian American Art Museum,

Topsy Turvy Dolls

Topsy Turvy dolls are two dolls conjoined at the waist, one is often black wearing a headscarf and apron and the other white with braids. These two characters often represented a black maid or slave, and the white doll often as the mistress or plantation owner’s child. They’re made so a child can flip the doll and have two separate dolls with different outfits. They were originally made right before the Civil War era (1852) in American plantation nurseries. However, they became extremely popular by the 19th century and were mass-produced across the United States. In 1901, the advertisement “Turn me up and turn me back, first I’m white, and then I’m black.” was used to sell these dolls. “Topsy and Eva” was a famous comedy sketch in the 1920s where they used blackface; later, the Topsy Turvy dolls were named Topsy and Eva after the comedy sketch. They were originally sewn together by caretakers of the children with hand-painted/sewn faces. Years later, the manufacturing of these dolls in versions of Jack and Jill and Little Red Riding Hood and The Big Bad Wolf began.

These dolls were made in affiliation with slavery and became widely popular because of the ideals of America. They were more prominent in Southern states which had a larger number of plantations. It is still unknown if these dolls were made for white children in the plantation house or Black children who worked for them. I think it is important to relate this to the power dynamic between races at the time, “…it retained its essential capacity to emphasize the differences between the powerful and the powerless. For this reason, it is a doll uniquely able to detect and reflect cultural tensions as they changed with the times and economic conditions. As if looking glass into the American social order, the two-headed, reversible, upside-down doll is able to turn things, well, topsy-turvy. In this sense, it is more than a doll–it is a symbol of power, of resistance, of secrecy, and of revolution” (Jarboe). In order to understand the symbolism this doll resembles, there has to be an understanding of slavery in the U.S. This doll is a symbol of two races coexisting with conflicting ideas/power.  In Cori Spencer’s piece “Little Black Topsy and the Magical White Fairy Soap,” she expressed topsy turvy dolls as “[t]these sorts of conflicted fantasies about transgression, and repulsion, and desire [that] are written into the very fabric of [society]” (Jarboe). This doll isn’t an object that gives conclusive ideals of race but rather shows the complexities of race and play during slavery.

This item is not from the UW Madison archival collection. These dolls began as a mass-manufactured product in stores nationwide starting in the 1900’s. Today, these dolls are in private collections, museums, and contemporary art.

This artifact overlaps with similar concepts of girlhood we learned about along with demonstrative play. A general concept that this piece corresponds to is with the ways racial dynamics in girlhood is interpreted by society and as readers today. This piece is interesting because it relates to other material, and it is engaging to look at artifacts like this now and be taken aback by them. Artifacts like these can help grasp a much better understanding of why history played out in the ways it did and allows us to relate how what we learn can still have underlying tones in society today. The term “girlhood” was a term that began being used frequently in the mid 18th century. These dolls were made around the same era of Addy’s Story and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Thinking of girlhood as “girl culture” connects to the Topsy Turvy doll in the sense that it was a doll made for young girl audiences. I chose this object because I think it has a lot of interrelationships with the novels and artifacts we have been learning about throughout the semester. Similar to the Golliwog dolls we learned about in Philip Nel’s,  “The Archive of Childhood, Part 2: The Golliwog,” Topsy Turvy dolls also demonstrate the ideals of society through the “innocent” symbolism of a child’s toy. “Every game that a child plays is somehow connected with learning about people”, states Bernie DeKoven in “Interplay” (Jarboe). Topsy Turvy dolls specifically had a message of definite differences in race which the clothing illustrated on the dolls themselves. Topsy Turvy dolls “mirror dynamics of the household…and helped children internalized social divisions” (Jarboe). in correlation to slavery. It is a subtle way to bring the ideologies of race into play because they demonstrate how to think about and treat people in the real world.

Jarboe, Julian K. “The Racial Symbolism of the Topsy-Turvy Doll.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, November 20, 2015.

Reflection Essay

The children’s version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Topsy Turvy dolls, The Doll Test, and “The Guardian” image all relate through their depiction of the African-American race. While each item stereotypes and characterizes this group differently, they all have an impact on the way society views African-American people, girlhood, and play. For example, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Topsy Turvy dolls depict African-Americans negatively, but “The Guardian” image sheds light on black fatherhood and adds dimension and truth to combat racial stereotyping. The Doll Test conducted by Doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clark further supports the need to change the way African-Americans are represented through demonstrating that Black children psychologically suffer from low self-esteem and inherently feel inferior due to discrimination, stereotyping and segregation. 

As seen in Robert Bernstein’s article, “Children’s Books, Dolls, and the Performance of Race; or, The Possibility of Children’s Literature,” the connection of toys and children’s literature script a certain type of play. Typically, towards Black dolls the script of play was negative. While certain Black dolls and toys may not overtly encourage aggressive play, they invite this behavior, which is specifically seen in the Topsy Turvy dolls. The Topsy Turvy dolls are made of cloth, therefore children who wish to beat and aggressively play with their doll can, without fear of it being destroyed. Similarly, children are producers of culture, and while yes, children’s perceptions and views are shaped by the people surrounding them, children also produce scripts of play, specifically with Black dolls and characters. When Bernstein describes a girl who beat her Black doll he writes that her, “play did not represent some preexisting racial or gendered essence, but instead constructed her whiteness and girlhood” (Bernstein 163). Typically, children weren’t playing with Black and white dolls as friends, but as a slave and it’s owner. As seen in the “Keyword’s for Children’s Literature” essay, “Girlhood,” girlhood is a culturally constructed concept. Therefore, this script for Black children and toys to be slaves was increasingly brought into this concept of girlhood and doll-play by both society and girls themselves. This concept is emphasized with The Doll Test performed by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark. The test found that a majority of children, African-Americans included, preferred the white doll and attributed positive characteristics to it. The test supports Bernstein’s argument not only in that children’s literature and toys script a certain type of play, but also that children produce this play and keep this unequal racial structure alive. The Doll Test was performed years after the Topsy-Turvy dolls and Uncle Tom’s Cabin was released, emphasizing how deeply rooted these racial systems exist in The United States. “The Guardian” image contrasts with how Black dolls and literature represented African-Americans, and specifically Black men. Black men were and still are represented as scary, criminal, and violent. This image is a symbol of wholesome black fatherhood and defies all these racially structured scripts for play set by children, girlhood, toys, and children’s literature. 

The focus of our project was to find items that both connected to American girlhood and how African-Americans are represented in our society. Originally, our group was going to center our project around dolls specifically and how they shape American girlhood. Our group then realized that we wanted to focus on more than just dolls, and figured that there were so many more interesting items to choose from and connect. The items that we highlighted in our blog post specifically illustrate the many different ways that African-Americans have been portrayed in our society, and how the ever-changing image of Black Americans emanates from a deeply rooted racial structure within the United States.

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