Student-Curated Online Exhibition at UR Investigates Richmond's Long History with Tobacco

May 11, 2020

UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND — Ten students in the American Studies program at the University of Richmond are launching a new online exhibition that explores Richmond's history with tobacco through stories from the 17th century to the present. The student team curated the exhibition alongside Nicole Sackley, associate professor of history and American Studies, and Alexandra Byrum, assistant director in the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement.

From the Powhatan People to corporate giant Altria, the exhibition Tobacco Made: Richmond's Unfiltered History explores the stories of how tobacco has molded Richmond’s culture, identity, economy, and landscape.

By highlighting public advertisements, postcards, and storefronts, the exhibition shares both the filtered stories of Richmond’s tobacco history as well as unfiltered stories of tobacco, which shine a light on enslavement, worker resistance, southern agriculture, gentrification, and more.  

“I knew tobacco had been a part of Richmond’s story but looking at how much tobacco really touches every corner of Richmond has been an amazing way to tell the city’s history,” said Claire Tate, a recent UR graduate who helped curate the exhibition. “A commodity can reveal an entire story of a city and that’s what tobacco does for Richmond.”

The online exhibition accompanies the University of Richmond Downtown exhibition, which will open during RVA First Fridays on September 4, 2020, and will feature additional maps, advertisements, photographs, and other artifacts. 

“In our age of smoke-free restaurants and offices, we can forget how much Richmond has been made by tobacco. Even today, Philip Morris’s Richmond plant produces 600 million cigarettes a day, more than half of the nation’s supply,” said Sackley. “This exhibition reveals stories hidden on our streets and factories and invites others to investigate our city’s tobacco past and present for themselves.” 

To view the online exhibition, visit

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