My research focuses primarily upon gender and American slavery, but I am equally fascinated with colonial and 19th century legal and economic history, especially as it pertains to women, systems of bondage, and the slave trade.
My first book, They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South, is a regional study that draws upon formerly enslaved people's testimony to dramatically reshape current understandings of white women's economic relationships to slavery. The book is based on my revised dissertation, which won the Organization of American Historians' 2013 Lerner-Scott Prize for the best doctoral dissertation in U.S. women's history. They Were Her Property foregrounds the testimony of enslaved and formerly enslaved people and puts their reflections into conversation with other narrative sources, legal documents, and financial records in order to show how white women's pecuniary investments in the institution shaped their gender identities and to situate them at the center of 19th century America's most significant and devastating system of economic exchange. As a whole, this book offers more expansive and differently gendered understandings of American slavery, the trans-regional domestic slave trade, and nineteenth-century slave markets.
They Were Her Property won the Southern Association for Women’s Historians 2020 Julia Cherry Spruill Prize awarded for the best book in southern women’s history, the Southern Historical Association’s 2020 Charles S. Sydnor Award, which is awarded for the best book in southern history published in an odd-numbered year, the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic’s 2020 Best Book Prize, the Organization of American Historians’ 2020 Merle Curti Prize for the best book in American social history, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History. I am the first African-American and the third woman to win this award since it's inception in 1980. They Were Her Property is also a finalist for the 2020 Frederick Douglass Book Prize from the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition and the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery 2020 Harriet Tubman Book Prize.
I am currently at work on a few new projects. My second book Women of the Trade (under contract with Liveright) reorients our understanding of the British Atlantic slave trade by centering the lives and experiences of English, African, and Afro-English women, free and captive, in its telling. Organized like the typical slave ship journey, Women of the Trade crafts a narrative about the British slave trade in which English and African women were fundamental, one wherein their financial investments and support, their strategies and political maneuvering, their labor and commercial savvy, their love, and their resistance proved crucial. My third Women, American Slavery, and the Law (also under contract with Liveright) will be the first book-length manuscript to examine the relationship between gender and the evolution of American slave/property law in both the North and the South from the colonial period to slavery’s legal end. It considers how the gradual abolition of slavery in the North affected free women’s lives, especially those who owned enslaved people. It also examines the relationship between the expansion of slavery into the West and the implementation of laws that protected married women’s property rights, particularly those living in newly formed states in which slavery would become economically fundamental. More profoundly, it explores how slave-owning women’s actions—particularly their demands that local and state courts recognize their rights to hold enslaved people in bondage—shaped the legal transformations that unfolded in both regions. And my study “She had…a Womb Subjected to Bondage”: The Afro-Atlantic Origins of British Colonial Descent Law examines the ways that West African customs and laws influenced English thinking about matrilineal descent and may have influenced their decisions to implement matrilineal descent laws in their North American colonies.
PhD, History, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, May 2012
MA, History of the United States, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, May 2007
BA, Psychology, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, May 2003
- African-American history
- The History of American Slavery
- Slavery and the Law
- The History of Women
- Women and Early American Law
Honors & Awards
Southern Association for Women’s Historians 2020 Julia Cherry Spruill Prize
Southern Historical Association 2020 Charles S. Sydnor Award
Society for Historians of the Early American Republic 2020 Best Book Prize
Los Angeles Times 2019 Book Prize in History
Organization of American Historians Merle Curti Social History Award, 2020
Division of Social Sciences Distinguished Teaching Award, College of Letters and Science, 2016-2017
Organization of American Historians Lerner-Scott Dissertation Prize in U.S. Women's History, 2013
Fellowships & Grants
Harrington Faculty Fellow, Department of History, University of Texas, Austin, 2018-2019
American Association of University Women Post-Doctoral Fellowship (Declined)
National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for University Teachers, 2017-2018
Ford Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellowship, 2017-2018
Woodrow Wilson Foundation Career Enhancement Fellowship for Junior Faculty, 2017
Humanities Research Fellowship, University of California, Berkeley, 2017-2018
Hellman Fellows Fund Award, 2016
Regents' Junior Faculty Fellowship, University of California, Berkeley, 2015
Institute of International Studies Manuscript Mini-Conference Grant, University of California, Berkeley, 2015
Arts and Humanities Initiative Standard Grant, University of Iowa, 2013-2014
College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Old Gold Summer Fellowship, University of Iowa, 2013-2014
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Small Summer Research Grant, Rutgers University, 2011
Pre-Doctoral Leadership Development Institute Fellowship, Rutgers University, 2010-2011
Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis Graduate Student Fellowship, Rutgers University, 2010-2011
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Small Summer Research Grant, Rutgers University, 2010
Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship-Honorable Mention, 2010 Competition
Graduate Assistantship, Center for Race and Ethnicity, Rutgers University, 2009-2010
Ralph Johnson Bunche Distinguished Graduate Award, Rutgers University, 2007
Louis Bevier Graduate Fellowship (Finalist/Alternate), Rutgers University, 2007
They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South (Yale University Press, February 2019)
Finalist for the 2020 Frederick Douglass Prize
Finalist for the 2020 Harriet Tubman Prize
Co-winner of the Southern Historical Association’s 2020 Charles S. Sydnor Award
Winner of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic’s 2020 Best Book Prize
Winner of the 2019 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History
Winner of the Organization of American Historians’ 2020 Merle Curti Social History Award
Finalist for the 2020 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize
Shortlisted for the Museum of African American History 2019 Stone Book Award
Essays in Edited Collections
"'[S]he could…spare one ample breast for the profit of her owner': White Mothers and Enslaved Wet Nurses’ Invisible Labor in American Slave Markets," in Motherhood, Childlessness and the Care of Children in Atlantic Slave Societies eds. Camillia Cowling, Maria Helena Pereira Toledo Machado, Diana Paton, and Emily West (Routledge, 2020), 100-116.
"Rethinking Sexual Violence and the Marketplace of Slavery: White Women, the Slave Market and Enslaved People's Sexualized Bodies in the Nineteenth-Century South," in Sexuality and Slavery: Reclaiming Intimate Histories in the Americas, eds. Daina Ramey Berry and Leslie Harris (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2018), 109-123.
"Mistresses in the Making: White Girls, Mastery and the Practice of Slaveownership in the Nineteenth-Century South," in Women's America, Volume 8: Refocusing the Past. Eds. Linda Kerber, Jane Sherron De Hart, Cornelia Hughes Dayton, and Judy Wu (Oxford University Press, 2015)
"'[S]he could...spare one ample breast for the profit of her owner': White Mothers and Enslaved Wet Nurses' Invisible Labor in American Slave Markets." Slavery and Abolition 38, No. 2 (April 2017): 337-355.
Daina Ramey Berry, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation (Boston: Beacon Press, 2017), in Journal of African-American History 103, No. 3 (Summer 2018): 448-451.
Calvin Schermerhorn, The Business of Slavery and the Rise of American Capitalism, 1815-1860 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2015), in Journal of Southern History 82, No. 2 (May 2016): 411-412.
“White Women and the Economy of Slavery.” Not Even Past, February 1, 2019, https://notevenpast.org/white-women-and-the-economy-of-slavery/
"Police shootings: How many more must perish before we see justice?" The Berkeley Blog, July 27, 2017, http://blogs.berkeley.edu/2017/07/27/stephanie-jones-rogers-police-exone...
"Another Side to the Tubman Twenty," The Berkeley Blog, April 26, 2016, http://blogs.berkeley.edu/2016/04/26/my-reservations-about-harriet-tubma...
"A Thousand Words, Countless Silences and the Audacity of Black Love," The Berkeley Blog, March 31, 2016, http://blogs.berkeley.edu/2016/03/31/a-thousand-words-countless-silences...
"The Charleston Massacre: What is the Meaning of Black Life in America?" The Berkeley Blog, July 13, 2015, http://blogs.berkeley.edu/2015/07/13/the-charleston-massacre-what-is-the...
"Rachel Dolezal's 'Deception': What We Don't Want to Know about Racial Identity in America," The Berkeley Blog, June 29, 2015, http://blogs.berkeley.edu/2015/06/29/rachel-dolezals-deception-what-we-d...
I am accepting new students. I'd be delighted to work with graduate applicants who are interested in African-American history, the history of American slavery, slavery and the law, the history of women, and women and the law.
Letters of Recommendation for Undergraduates
If you are considering asking me to write a letter of recommendation for you, please be mindful of the following. I only write letters of support for students who have completed two or more classes with me, one of which must be a seminar or an independent study. Even for those students who have taken multiple courses with me, I can only write a substantive letter of support if I know you. Simply earning an "A" in the class is not enough. I have to know something about you, so it is in your best interest to make yourself known to me. Visit me during office hours (Only if you have a valid reason. Do not just sign up for weekly appointments for the sole purpose of obtaining a letter), actively participate in class, and ask questions in and out of class if you have any. In short, set yourself apart from your classmates. If you don't do these things, there isn't much that I can write about beyond your letter grade. No school wants a letter saying, "Student Q was in my 200-person class and earned an "A." I think they'd be okay in your graduate program."
Before requesting a Letter of Recommendation you should also ask yourself whether my interactions with you would allow me to evaluate you on the following factors:
- Intellectual Ability
- Imagination And Creativity
- Social Skills
- Ability In Oral Expression
- Writing Ability
- Quality Of Previous Work
- Research Aptitude
- Work Ethic
- Suitability For Graduate School
- Promise As A Professional In The Field
Graduate school admissions committees ask faculty to evaluate each student on this range of factors. In fact, I extracted these items directly from the faculty interfaces for recent student applications. If I cannot give graduate admissions committees my honest evaluation regarding these factors, it is best for you to request a letter from an instructor who knows you and your work well enough to do so. The best professors to do so would be those who you've had more than one small seminar-style class with and/or those with whom you've worked closely and have read and critiqued your written work.
If you consider the above and you still would like for me to write a letter for you, you must request it at least FOUR WEEKS before the deadline. Additionally, you must provide the following, without exception:
- Application/Letter Deadlines.
- Scholarship/Job/Graduate school to which you are applying.
- Website/info about the opportunity/job/academic program.
- Instructions on how/where to send/deliver recommendation letter
- Application materials you plan on submitting (draft or final versions if available)
I prefer to receive all of your letter requests at once. If you plan to apply to more than 2-3 schools, I recommend that you create an Interfolio account at: https://www.interfolio.com/ which allows your letter writers to upload their letters and then allows you to send them to as many schools as you want. There is a small fee to sign up, but I find that it is worth it.
If you would like to make an announcement that is addressed to undergraduates enrolled in my lecture courses, please email me at email@example.com for prior approval at least two days before you would like to visit. Please do not just show up to class without consulting with me first.