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The Art of Resistance in Early America

This exhibit addresses the theme of the Fall 2023 semester at the University of Michigan: “Arts & Resistance.” The United States is often described as a nation that was born out of resistance—resistance to oppression of dissenting religious beliefs, resistance to taxation without representation, etc. When we think about what that resistance looked like in colonial America, we often envision acts of public, political resistance: the Boston Tea Party in 1773, the destruction of the statue of King George III in lower Manhattan in 1776. This exhibit asks us to think about resistance in different settings, and in different forms. What “arts” did Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth century use to resist various forms of power, from imperial domination to classroom rules? What did those forms of creative resistance accomplish, either in people’s individual lives or in the broader society? What does it mean to you to find yourself in a nation—a structure of power—with an origin story that is all about resistance to power? We hope that the items on display in this exhibit will show how people in the nation’s past tried to answer those questions.