Dr. Tell’s research focuses on issues of race, memory, and place. Since 2014, he has focused on the legacy of the murder of Emmett Till in the Mississippi Delta. As a long-time partner with the Emmett Till Memorial Commission of Tallahatchie County, Inc., Dr. Tell’s work has a strong public focus. His scholarship is written for broad, public audiences and he has worked extensively with the ETMC to develop resources (mobile apps, roadside markers) with which to tell the story of Till’s murder for the next generation.
His 2019 book Remembering Emmett Till (University of Chicago Press) tells the complete story of Emmett Till’s commemoration in the Mississippi Delta. Written with the resources of a 2016 NEH Fellowship, the book accounts for long silences and brief, passionate outbursts of memorial investment. It tells the backstories of the signs and museums that now punctuate the land where Till was killed. It reveals a world of controversy, patronage, nepotism, and racism lurking just behind the placid surface of polished historical markers. Drawing on untapped archives, a thousand pages of never-before-seen FOIA documents, reams of grant records, competing maps, and extensive on-site experience, Remembering Emmett Till presents the murder from the perspective of those who live in its shadow and, all too often, survive economically through the desperate repackaging of Till’s story. It tells the sometimes-inspiring, more-often-heartbreaking, always-unlikely backstories of the Delta’s twenty-first-century investment in Till’s story.
Since 2014, Dr. Tell has been the lead investigator on the Emmett Till Memory Project, a collaborative, public, and digital humanities project. Using a GPS-enabled smartphone app, the ETMP will take visitors to ten sites related to Till's murder in the Mississippi Delta. At each site, the ETMP will provide historical and contemporary photographs; narrative explanations; digital access to archival documents; social-media check-ins; and GPS directions to the next site. This project is still in development.
In addition to his work on Emmett Till, Dr. Tell continues to publish on the history of rhetoric and, in particular, its intersection with modern architecture.
Dr. Tell is a prolific public speaker. Since 2014, he has given nearly fifty public talks on the legacy of Till murder. He has brought Till’s story to jails, high schools, detention centers, public libraries, town halls, local bookstores, and elite universities across the country.
Dr. Tell is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2017 Chancellor’s University Scholarly Achievement Award, the 2012 Ned N. Fleming Distinguished Teaching Award, and several awards for engaged scholarship.