Visualizing Capital Punishment Online Exhibit

Poster for exhibit Visualizing Capital Punishment


This exhibit explores the power of visual imagery to change minds about the death penalty. Drawing from material in the Harvard Law School Library’s Historical & Special Collections, the exhibit tells a story in three chapters: Spectacle, Shame, and Sympathy. Highlights include English execution broadsides; original political cartoons from a collection recently donated by Harvey Silverglate (HLS 1967); and a modern art portfolio, Contra la Pena de Muerte, by Puerto Rican artist Antonio Martorell.

Visualizing Capital Punishment was inspired in part by the Library’s recent acquisition of Antonio Martorell’s beautiful and haunting portfolio, a testament to the horrors of capital punishment. It was further inspired by an exhibit at the Harvard Art Museums, Dare to Know: Prints and Drawings in the Age of Enlightenment, which explores the use of graphic arts to communicate new ideas and change minds. Several artists, notably Francisco Goya and William Hogarth, feature in both exhibits. Dare to Know is on view at the Harvard Art Museums from September 16, 2022 – January 15, 2023.


Visualizing Capital Punishment was curated by KB Beck, Historical & Special Collections, with special thanks to Juan-Andrés Fuentes, Antonio Martorell, Terri Messina, Elizabeth Rudy, Lesley Schoenfeld, and colleagues from Historical & Special Collections, Harvard Library Imaging Services, and the Weissman Preservation Center.


It is on view in the Caspersen Room, Langdell Hall, weekdays from 9 to 5 through June 2023. Access to Harvard Law School buildings is currently limited to Harvard ID holders.

Exhibit Programming

October 12, 2022: Capital Punishment: Where We Stand

A presentation by Professor Carol Steiker followed by a reception and exhibit viewing

November 15, 2022: Death Penalty Defense Work panel

Harvard Law School Professor Carol Steiker will lead a panel discussion with recent HLS graduates working in the area of death penalty defense.
Watch the program here.

March 7, 2023: Scholars and Artists Discuss the Death Penalty panel

Scholars and Artists Discuss the Death Penalty

Panel discussion with scholar John Bessler, photographer Lou Jones, and artist Antonio Martorell, moderated by Professor Martha Minow
4-5 pm, Harvard Law School

March 22, 2023: Fifty Years After Furman panel

Fifty Years After Furman: The Death Penalty in America

Discussion moderated by HLS Professor Carol Steiker, with panelists Mugambi Jouet (USC Law), Corinna Lain (Richmond Law), and Michael Meltsner (Northeastern Law)
4-5 pm, Harvard Law School

April 3, 2023: HLS Library Ideas Salon

Students in the Capital Punishment Clinic share their work

4-5 pm, Harvard Law School Library