A Provenance Center Exhibition

October 22, 2010 - January 14, 2011
Guest Curator: Michael Bellesiles, PhD

Opening Reception: Friday, October 22 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
General discussion from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.


Scott Langley
Photograph, 2001

The crossroads of "State" and "Justice" near
federal death row in Indiana - just before
Timothy McVeigh's 2001 execution.

  The Death Penalty, also called Capital Punishment, has historically been practiced in nearly all societies and cultures. While currently accepted in 58 nations, ninety-five have legally abolished its practice. Nonetheless, the death penalty remains an actively controversial issue around the world, dividing many individuals and groups in regards to social, moral, political and religious beliefs and principles. This exhibit seeks to present one perspective of this uniquely human phenomenon, examining its origins and history, along with a broad selection of issues and information related to the cultural and social foundation of the death penalty. Also on display are images by free-lance photojournalist Scott Langley who has established an international reputation for his chronicling of the death penalty as both a modern institution and practice that runs deeply in the social fabric of our nation.
The photography work of Scott Langley has appeared in the Boston Globe, Washington Post, Essence Magazine, with the Associated Press, Reuters,,, and in publications of Amnesty International. Since 2005, his major documentary project on the death penalty has been exhibited by Amnesty International in Germany, Denmark, Norway, the UK at Harvard University in Massachusetts, Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and in Washington DC.

Guest Curator: Michael Bellesiles, PhD.

Dr. Bellesiles received his PhD in history from the University of California at Irvine and is formerly professor of History at Emory University in Atlanta and founding director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Emory from 1996-1999. He has authored numerous books and articles on various aspects of American History, oftentimes focusing on violence in its diverse manifestations within our society and culture. His most recent book is titled "1877: America's Year of Living Violently", published by New Press, and was released August, 2010. Dr. Bellesiles is currently teaching history at Central Connecticut State University and continuing his writing.

Old Testament Passages for Punishment by Death ~
The United States has struggled with the use and extent of the death penalty from the founding of its government.� The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution reads: �Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.�� From the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791, American communities have debated and divided over whether the death penalty is cruel and unusual, with states repeatedly adopting, overturning, and re-establishing the death penalty and its reach.� In the years prior to the Civil War the Southern states used the death penalty to terrorize their slave population, keeping a wide range of capital crimes in support of white supremacy.� Meanwhile the rest of the states slowly limited the number of capital crimes primarily to murder, rape, arson, and treason, and ended public executions in the mid-19th century.� The South kept public executions into the 20th Century, with Kentucky holding the last public execution in 1936.� In the last quarter of the 20th Century debates over the racial and class biases of the death penalty and police and prosecutorial misconduct called the practice into use; and though homicide is now the sole crime still punished by the death penalty, the freeing of scores of death row inmates as a result of DNA evidence has raised new questions on the reliability of capital convictions.
In a democracy, the will of the voters determines the structure of criminal law.� The death penalty has always been and definitely remains a potent political issue.� Prosecutors, judges, and legislators all must address the issue in seeking public support, with opposition to the death penalty in some areas of the country practically insuring defeat.� Prospective jurors who express doubts over capital punishment are automatically excluded from capital cases, as only those who accept the utility of executions are deemed capable of reaching a fair decision in a case that may result in the death penalty.� Regardless of other political positions, opinions on the death penalty cross party lines and remain highly personal and often deeply emotional.� Those who have lost loved ones to an act of violence usually and understandably demand retribution, while many oppose the death penalty for deeply held religious and spiritual reasons. �As a consequence, it is often very difficult to even discuss the issue.

The purpose of this exhibit is to begin such a fair, honest, informed, and respectful conversation on the history and continued use of the death penalty.� At a time when a recent horrendous criminal act has again required Connecticut�s citizens to consider the place of capital punishment in our state, it is vital that we be able to freely express our different concerns, opinions, doubts, and questions in a shared public space.� We work on the assumption that a great number of people have not made up their minds, while many of those who state support or opposition to the death penalty welcome a free exchange of ideas and knowledge with open minds and hearts.� Our goal at Provenance Center is to promote reflective dialogue and defend the right of everyone to both perceive ambiguities and remain uncertain as to the correct path for achieving justice.

~ Michael Bellesiles, PhD
October 2010



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