Professor of History, Early American and 19th-Century U.S.
Ph.D., Georgetown University (1985)
I became interested in history through my family and its troubled past. My paternal grandmother was born in Tennessee in 1885, the daughter of an elderly Confederate officer and slaveholder (and his second, much younger, wife). When I was in high school, the series "Roots" was shown on television, and my normally softspoken grandmother became furious about the way in which the Old South was depicted. She assured me that they meaning the planter class "were always kind to our people," an inadvertent admission that African American slaves were indeed human property. I think that's when I decided to write and teach about race relations in the early American South. I moved east from Arizona and received my M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Georgetown. I never lost my interest in the South, which in fact was far more complex and complicated than I ever imagined. My work deals with the intersections between race and politics in early America. My books include The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America's Most Progressive Era (2014), Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election That Brought on the Civil War (2010) and Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America (2009). My first book, Charles Fenton Mercer and the Trial of National Conservatism (1989), examined the career of the founder of the American Colonization Society, a group of conservative white antislavery politicians who wished to send freed slaves to Liberia. My other books, Gabriel's Rebellion (1993), He Shall Go Out Free: The Lives of Denmark Vesey (1999), and Rebels, Reformers and Revolutionaries (2002) explore slave rebelliousness.
I've also written numerous essays and reviews regarding race in early America; some of the latter have appeared in the Sunday Boston Globe and The Nation. I've appeared on the PBS series "The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross" (2013), "Africans in America" (1998) and "This Far by Faith" (2002). During the 2011-12 academic year, I held the Mary Ball Washington Chair (Fulbright) at the University College Dublin. In spring 2015, I was the Merrill Family Visiting Professor of History at Cornell University.
World Civilizations I & II: Learning Community
Antebellum America, 1800-1848
Slavery and Emancipation in the Atlantic World
Civil War and Reconstruction, 1848-1877
Race and Ethnicity in Early America
Recent and Forthcoming Publications
Recent Conference Presentations
I have given talks at the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the Southern Historical Association, and the Society for Historians of the Early Republic.
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