Parr_Headshot_BorderI am an Assistant Professor of History at Simmons University in Boston, MA. I hold degrees from the University of New Hampshire at Durham (Ph.D. and M.A., History, 2012), and Simmons College, Boston (M.A. History, M.S. Archives Management, 2005; B.A. History, with Departmental Honors, 2000). I am a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and I have held fellowships and grants from the Boston Athenaeum, the American Studies Association, the John Hope Franklin Research Center at Duke University, Gilder Lehrman Institute, Mystic Seaport, and Congregational Library. I am also a regular contributor to The Junto: a Group Blog in Early American History, Black Perspectives, a co-List Editor for the H-Atlantic network, and I was a contributing historian to the More than a Map(p) project. I am also the Global Team Lead of The Programming Historian. My research interests include African-American History, race, and religion in the Early Modern British Atlantic World, memory studies, and digital history.

My first book, Inventing George Whitefield: Race, Revivalism, and the Making of a  Religious Icon was published by the University Press of Mississippi (cloth 2015; pbk 2016). I explore Whitefield’s development as a symbol shaped in the complexities of revivalism, the contest over religious toleration, and the conflicting roles of Christianity for enslaved people. Evangelical Christianity’s emphasis on “freedom in the eyes of God,” combined with the problems that the rhetoric of the Revolution posed for slavery, also suggested a path to political freedom. My analysis of the evolution of Whitefield’s thought on slavery is among the book’s central contributions. Another major contribution is my analysis of Whitefield’s afterlife.

I have an edited collection of the selected papers of eighteenth-century British physician/clergymen/abolitionist James Ramsay under contract with the University of Georgia Press. These papers draw on a collection of research notes, drafts, and correspondence complied by James Ramsay in the course of his writing of two abolitionist pamphlets published in 1784. The first was An Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies, and the second was An Inquiry Into the Effects of Putting a Stop to the African Slave Trade: And of Granting Liberty to the Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies (1784). Ramsay’s pamphlets helped to draw attention to the public debate over slavery in Great Britain, as well as capturing the eye of the Bishop of London, who oversaw the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel’s plantations in the sugar colonies.

I am currently at work on a book that explores the meanings of “slavery” and “freedom” in
the British and Black Atlantic Worlds between 1660 and 1830. In the white Anglo-American context, “slavery” and “freedom” were discussed in political, legal, and religious terms. This dialogue led to metaphysical understandings of chattel slavery in the British Empire, and involving political, legal, and religious structures that legitimized the permanent enslavement of Africans. While only a relatively small minority of Englishmen (later Britons) raised political, legal, or moral problems with slavery, the institution of slavery nonetheless needed to be defined, and particularly how it contrasted with what it meant to be English in the early years of Britain’s direct involvement with the slave trade. For thinkers and writers of the Black Atlantic, “slavery” and “freedom” were discussed primarily on religious and political terms, engaging with the Anglo-American interpretations of law and religious designed to disenfranchise them. What began as a means to describe and legitimize chattel slavery was reinterpreted by writers of the Black Atlantic who, from the 1760s onward, used the political and religious language in their own terms to describe a post-slavery Black Atlantic.