The first major exhibition at the museum to engage this subject, Look Again attempts not to display merely a category of “African American collections,” but instead to re-examine its American historical collections. Items on display range from Phillis Wheatley’s first editions and selections from the museum’s extensive holdings of abolitionist material, such as courtroom drawings from the trial of John Brown, to sugar bowls and mahogany furniture. The museum’s complete set of autographs from the signers of the Declaration of Independence is reinterpreted within the context of slaveholding and displayed alongside a list of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves in his own handwriting. The exhibition also charts the nation’s progress toward ending slavery during the Civil War with manuscripts of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.
All of the materials in this exhibition are a part of the Rosenbach’s permanent collections and most were collected by the Rosenbach brothers, the institution’s founders. As part of its active acquisitions program, the Rosenbach continues to collect objects that shed light on African American history, and several recent acquisitions appear in this exhibition, including a 1770 advertisement for a poem by Phillis Wheatley and an 1863 Philadelphia Inquirer piece on Frederick Douglass’s recruitment call for black soldiers. This project also includes a series of special tours that reinterpret the Rosenbach’s historic house through the lens of African American history. Through this exhibition and its accompanying programs, the Rosenbach hopes that this project will encourage visitors to explore African American history as an inseparable and integral part of American history.