Samuel Jennings Fellowships

Samuel Jennings's Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences (1792)

Innovation Fellowship Program: Year Two (2022-23)

The Liberty Fellowship will support one academic humanist and one creative practitioner to excavate and reimagine the history of Samuel Jennings’s Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences (1792). These paired fellows will be asked to contextualize the Jennings painting and to create a contemporary counterpart to it. The scholar might choose to review the Library Company’s Minutes (1790-92) and write a white paper that supplements our existing reference file; publish an essay in a peer-reviewed journal such as Early American Studies; and/or pen an op-ed in popular media such as the Philadelphia Inquirer. The artist will be asked to a counterpart to the Jennings’ painting. This twenty-first century reinterpretation of Liberty might take the form of a painting, mural, or another piece of visual or performing art.

The Samuel Jennings Innovation Fellowships are fully funded thanks to the generosity of our Founding Sponsor Dr. Randall M. Miller and Sustaining Sponsors Louise M. and Peter J. Kelly and Dr. John C. and Christine K. Van Horne.

About Samuel Jennings’s Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences (1792)

Samuel Jennings’s Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences (1792) isn’t only the centerpiece of the reading room; it’s a landmark in Library Company history and a symbol of an uncomfortable truth at the fin de siècle: After the Naturalization Act of 1790, which restricted citizenship to “free white person[s],” education presented one pathway out of bondage upon which the newly-instantiated state could not infringe. In this sense, Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences can be read as a piece of protest art that would have been displayed in the Library Company in close proximity to Congress Hall in Philadelphia. However, such context is not readily apparent. More often, readers cringe at the sight of Liberty, cast as an incandescent white matriarch, showing charity to a group of supplicant newly-emancipated peoples.