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Focus Area on African-American and Southern History

The History Department at the University of Memphis is especially strong in African-American and Southern histories. While these are distinct fields of inquiry and students may work exclusively within one or the other, our program provides a unique opportunity to study at the intersection of two histories that have informed each other across the centuries in myriad ways, large and small. The center of our attention is generally the nineteenth and twentieth century U.S., but our collective interests transcend political borders, geography, and time, enabling students to pursue research that is as global and deep as it is African-American and/or Southern. Departmental strengths in the histories of labor, race, gender, politics, women, and the economy open up further lines of inquiry and emphasis. Thus while Southern and African-American experiences represent the focal points of our scholarship, opportunities abound for students to find their own intellectual space between and within two dynamic fields of study that have their own long and tangled histories.

That our history program allows for such creative reconsideration of Southern and African-American history owes much to the intellectual strengths and range of our faculty. Study here introduces students to scholars like Beverly Bond, whose research focuses on African-American women in the urban South over the long nineteenth century; Charles Crawford, whose scholarship focuses on local and oral histories; James Fickle, whose research focuses on biracial unions and organizational efforts in the South; Scott Marler, whose research interests include Southern business, economic, and legal history; and Susan O’Donovan, whose research focuses on the productive and political lives of African-Americans in slavery and freedom. Other faculty scholarship transcends regional boundaries. For instance, Aram Goudsouzian’s research probes black popular culture and the black freedom struggle from both local and national perspectives, and Sarah Potter studies African-American family life in modern America and is particularly interested in the interplay between gender, class, and the meanings ascribed to racial difference. Dennis Laumann’s work on colonialism in West Africa, Guiomar Dueñas-Vargas’s work on race and gender in nineteenth-century Columbia, and Andrew Daily’s research on the intellectual and cultural history of the black diaspora in the Caribbean and modern Europe give this focus area a global dimension. Our full-time instructor Colin Chapell rounds out the focus area by drawing attention to the intersection between religion and gender in the American South.