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Professor of History and African American Studies, Northwestern University

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.


  • 2016–present
    Professor, Northwestern University
  • 2001–2016
    Associate professor, Emory University
  • 1995–2001
    Assistant Professor, Emory University