My career as an historian and teacher has focused on complicating the ideas we all hold about the history of African Americans in the United States; and finding ways to communicate these new ideas to the general public. My first body of research focuses on African Americans in the Pre-Civil War United States. With my first book, In the Shadow of Slavery, I challenged the prevailing view of slavery as a phenomenon of the southern United States, with little impact or importance in the northern U.S. Using New York City as a case study, I demonstrate the ways in which both northern and southern slavery, northern emancipation, and racial identity influenced definitions of citizenship, class, and community for blacks and whites in the pre-Civil War United States. I am now at work on a book on late-twentieth century New Orleans, which captures a history that I believe is being obscured by the responses to the 2005 Hurricane Season. Upon completion of that book, I will return to two projects about gender and southern slavery: one that looks at twentieth-century historians’ analyses of gender in southern slavery; and a second that creates a new history of slavery and gender through the question of manhood.
I have also focused upon community and diversity in public scholarship. I served as a principal adviser to the “Slavery in New York” exhibit at the New-York Historical Society (2005-2006), which garnered international attention, and co-edited the book that accompanied it. I am currently working on a similar project with Telfair Museum’s Owens-Thomas House of Savannah, Georgia. With Daina Ramey Berry, I co-edited Slavery and Freedom in Savannah. From 2004-2011, I served as co-founder and director of the Transforming Community Project (TCP), which was funded by the Ford Foundation's Difficult Dialogues Initiative and the Office of the President of Emory University.