Research Statement

As a scholar, I am a cultural and intellectual historian who focuses on slavery and human rights in the long eighteenth century. Much of my research looks at entanglements between Black anti-slavery activism, white abolitionism, and pro-slavery forces. My first book, Inventing George Whitefield, began as an exploration of the controversy over the baptism of enslaved Africans. As my research continued, I became increasingly interest in Whitefield’s under-explored relationship with slavery, and particularly how someone who was an enslaver was understood and used in the context of early American Black liberation theology and anti-slavery activities. Whitefield’s tendency to preach to mixed-race audiences, and belief in equal salvation was co-opted by early African American writers and theologians to call Black Christian communities, and to advocate for freedom.

Subsequent research has explored similar themes. For example, the edited volume of 18th century British physician-abolitionist James Ramsay is centered around a folio of letters, drafts, and other documents held by the Bodleian Library, Oxford. This collection consists of the research and brainstorming he did for the pamphlets that he wrote that were pivotal to pushing the debate over slavery and abolition into public discourse. The collection of documents and the accompanying essay also reveal much about the limitations of white abolitionism in the Americas and in Great Britain. Ramsay’s papers reveal a man who was (initially, at least) more concerned with improving the conditions of the enslaved and ending the transatlantic passage, rather than full abolition. It is example of what Christopher Brown has called “abolition without emancipation.” Ramsay and his supporters succeeded in garnering Parliamentary support for the end of the transatlantic slave trade but did little to end slavery. Moreover, the folio contains data and recollections that contribute to scholarly discussions of the past decade about just how intertwined slavery was with capitalism both in the British empire, and in the United States following independence.

My current monograph project explores the ways in which African American anti-slavery activists navigated the political and social structures that codified and perpetuated slavery between 1735 and 1860. One of the questions this book will explore was how African American activists’ responses to the diasporan entanglements with slavery changed from the eighteenth-century, with writers like Phillis Wheatley, Prince Hall, and Lemuel Hayes, to nineteenth-century writers like David Walker, Alexander Crummell, and Maria Stewart. In the second chapter, I will data visualization methods to analyze what I call “communities of print.” I have collected data on over 500 Black intellectuals who appear in slave narratives, court records, tracts, sermons, and other sources from British North America/the United States, the Caribbean, and the United Kingdom. I have collected data on the individuals, source type, year, and the geographies both where the document was published, but that are mentioned. It is a dh method for addressing the fragmentation of the Black archives (as described by Marisa Fuentes), and the development of an African American intellectual geography that draws from radical geography, deep mapping, and countermapping techniques within Black DH. The major contributions of this book project is that it demonstrates the ways Black activists created geographies that while, entangled with the white, British, Protestant identity politics of slavery, were very much their own. For example combining geospatial data with imprint and gender data allows us to see the spread of Black women’s writings through the liberatory landscapes in real time. And comparing patterns of Black print culture with mapping of major routes of the underground railroad help to clearly illustrated interconnections between Black print culture and other structures of abolition.

Aside from my more traditional scholarly activities, I am involved in a number of digital Humanities Projects that are engaged in DEI initiatives and offer opportunities for mentoring students, and have me working with people from different racial, socio-economic, and cultural backgrounds. I am Global Team Lead for The Programming Historian, a prize-winning and peer-reviewed multilingual digital humanities journal that has addressing inequities in digital humanities training and professional development as a central part of its mission. I’m working with a colleague in Computer Science to build a digital database of court records from eighteenth and nineteenth century US slave jails. As part of this work, we have been able to attract some small grants to fund paid opportunities for students of color both to help build the database itself and to process records to be added to the prototype. And, I have recently been invited to become a project consultant to a project at Northeastern to build a virtual reality simulation of nineteenth-century abolitionist David Walker’s Boston home by Jessica Linker and Angel David Nieves. This project brings together a diverse mix of scholars from three institutions.

And finally, I also write for public audiences. I have also been active in producing public scholarship for outlets like The Junto, Black Perspectives and We’re History. My recent essays include an invited essay for Public Books that discusses memory and the uses and abuses of public history in national narratives, and particular, the erasure of slavery and racism, a piece for Black Perspectives on race, technology, and ethics in AI and Deep Heritage, and one on the ties between the abuse of the MOVE Bombing victims’ remains and longer histories of scientific racism and experimentation on African Americans. I anticipate continuing to produce public scholarship and digital projects alongside my more traditional articles, chapters, and monographs.