- Associate Professor
- Donald W. Logan Family Endowed Chair in American History
Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania, 1998
I am an historian of African Americans, slavery, the American South and women and gender. I teach classes on slavery in the United States, nineteenth- century America, African Americans and beauty and the body. Running throughout my teaching and my research is a strong interest in the social and cultural history of the body, including its uses as an index of social power and powerlessness, a political resource and an instrument of cultural pleasure, and much more.
This was a theme I explored in my first book, Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South, which was published in 2004 by the University of North Carolina Press as part of its Gender and American Culture Series. Closer to Freedom drew on ideas from cultural geography to frame and explain the significance of the constant movement I witnessed in my sources on plantation life. Race and status were spatially organized in the slave South. State laws, plantation rules, organized slave patrols and self-appointed white men carefully policed the movement of the enslaved around southern space. Within this context of extreme physical and social immobility, enslaved women were bound especially tightly. Nonetheless, my book showed, they played a vital role in the development of slaves’ “rival geography.” Upon its publication in 2004, Closer to Freedom won the Lillian Smith Book Prize for New Voices in Non-Fiction; it was also awarded an Honorable Mention by the John Hope Franklin Prize and was short-listed for the Washington State Book Award.
After completing Closer to Freedom, I worked with Edward E. Baptist (Cornell University) on our anthology New Studies in the History of American Slavery (University of Georgia Press, 2006). Our collection has been well received critically and is in its second printing. Over the years I have published a few highly influential articles. My 2002 article, “The Pleasures of Resistance” has been reprinted in essay collections four times, while my other 2002 article “’I Could Not Stay There’” was reprinted once. In 2007 I co-authored a prize- winning article commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the germinal book in slavery studies, Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South. My more recent essays on race, gender and visual culture will appear in the anthologies The Oxford Handbook on the History of Race (edited by Matthew Pratt Guterl) and in Connexions (edited by James Downs).
Currently, I am working on a book entitled, Black Is Beautiful: An American History. It explores the history of debates among and between blacks, white Americans and Europeans about whether black bodies could be beautiful, in what ways, and what was meaningful about the answers. It tracks the many changes in thought on these questions over the centuries, uncovering the extent to which claims about black beauty and black ugliness have changed dramatically over time.
I regularly teach courses that explore ordinary people’s lives and concerns, their power and their powerlessness and the historical force of social categories such as race and gender. The classes I teach most frequently are:
HSTAA 225, American Slavery
HSTAA 302, Everyday Life in Nineteenth-Century America
HSTAA 494, Beauty and the Body
HSTAA 502, Graduate Seminar in Early American History (co-taught with Stephanie E. Smallwood)
HSTAA 321, Becoming Black Americans
New Studies in the History of American Slavery, edited with Edward E. Baptist. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 2006. Currently in its second printing.
Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South . Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004. Currently in its second printing.
- Winner, 2005 Annual Lillian Smith Book Award for New Voices in Non-Fiction, The Southern Regional Council and the University of Georgia Libraries.
- Honorable Mention, 2005 John Hope Franklin Prize, American Studies Association.
- Finalist, 2005 Washington State Book Award, Washington Center for the Book at The Seattle Public Library.
- Included in the Gender and American Culture series.
Peer-Reviewed Articles and Essays:
2007 “Ar’n’t I a Woman? and the History of Race and Sex in the U.S.” Part of “The History of Woman and Slavery: Considering the Impact of Ar'n't I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South on the Twentieth Anniversary of Its Publication” article by Daina Ramey Berry, Stephanie M.H. Camp, Leslie Harris, Barbara Krauthamer, Jessica Millward, Jennifer L. Morgan. Journal of Women’s History, 19, 2 (June 2007).
- Winner, 2007 Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Prize for the best article on black women’s history.
2002 “I Could Not Stay There’: Enslaved Women, Truancy, and the Geography of Everyday Forms of Resistance in the Antebellum Plantation South,” Slavery and Abolition, 23, 3 (December 2002). (Peer-reviewed.)
* Reprinted in: Nancy Hewitt and Kirsten Delegard, eds., Women, Families and Communities: Readings in American History (1994; Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman/Little, Brown Higher Education, 2007).
2002 “The Pleasures of Resistance: Enslaved Women and Body Politics in the Plantation South, 1830-1861,” Journal of Southern History 68, 3 (August 2002). (Peer-reviewed.)
* Reprinted in J. William Harris, ed., The Old South: New Studies of Society and Culture (New York: Routledge, 2007).
* Reprinted in Vicky Ruiz, ed., Unequal Sisters (New York: Routledge, 2007).
* Reprinted in Edward E. Baptist and Stephanie M. H. Camp, eds., New Studies in the History of American Slavery ( Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 2006).