Susan Eva O’Donovan

Susan Eva O’Donovan

Associate Professor

201 Mitchell
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Doctor of Philosophy in History, University of California, San Diego, 1997
Master of Arts in History, University of California, San Diego, 1990
Bachelor of Arts in History, University of California, San Diego, 1987
(summa cum laude)

Fields of Interest

Nineteenth Century US
Slavery and Emancipation

Courses taught

US to 1877 undergraduate survey
US to 1877 graduate historiography
Graduate Teaching Seminar
Graduate Research Seminar

Representative publications

Recent books include:

  • Becoming Citizens: The Political Lives of Slaves (New York: Metropolitan Books, under contract)

  • Remembering the Memphis Massacre: An American Story (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, in production), with Beverly G. Bond

  • Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867, ser. 3, vol. 2, Land and Labor, 1866–1867 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2013), with Anthony E. Kaye, Steven F. Miller, Leslie S. Rowland, and Stephen A. West; recipient of the 2015 Thomas Jefferson Prize

  • Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867, ser. 3, vol. 1, Land and Labor, 1865 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2008), with Steven Hahn, Steven F. Miller, John C. Rodrigue, and Leslie S. Rowland

  • Becoming Free in the Cotton South (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007); recipient of the James A. Rawley Prize; recipient of the Award for Excellence in Research Using the Holdings of an Archives; finalist for the Theodore Saloutos Memorial Award

Recent articles and book chapters include:

  • "Writing Slavery into Freedom's Story," in Beyond Freedom: New Directions on the Study of Emancipation, ed. David Blight and Jim Downs (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 2017)

  • "Slaves: America's Working Class," Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas 12 (number 4, 2015): 17–21

  • "Finding a New War in an Old Image," in Lens of War: Exploring Iconic Photographs of the Civil War, ed. J. Matthew Gallman and Gary W. Gallagher (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 2015)

  • "Freedom's Revolutions: Rethinking Emancipation and its History," Tennessee Historical Quarterly 72 (Winter 2013): 245–254 (published 2014)

  • "At the Intersection of Cotton and Commerce: Antebellum Savannah and its Slaves," in Slavery and Freedom in Savannah, ed. Daina Ramey Berry and Leslie M. Harris (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 2014), recipient of the 2014 Georgia Historical Records Council Award for Excellence in Documenting Georgia's History and the 2014 American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award

  •  "Mapping Freedom's Terrain: The Political and Productive Landscapes of Wilmington, North Carolina," in After Slavery: New Approaches to the Reconstruction South, ed. Bruce E. Baker and Brian Kelly (Gainesville, Fla.: University Press of Florida, 2013)

  • "Race and the Evolution of the Southern Economy," The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Volume 24: Race, ed. Thomas C. Holt and Laurie B. Green (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2013)

  • "Universities of Social and Political Change: Slaves in Jail in Antebellum America," in Buried Lives: Incarcerated in Early America, ed. Michele Lise Tarter and Richard Bell (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 2012); reprinted in Major Problems in American History, vol. 1, 4th edition (Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2016)

  • "Traded Babies: Enslaved Children in America's Domestic Migrations, 1820–1860," in Children in Slavery: A Global History, vol. 2, Child Slaves in the Modern World, ed. Gwyn Campbell, Suzanne Miers, and Joseph C. Miller (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, Fall 2009)

I am a regular participant at professional meetings, including the annual meetings of the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, and the Southern Historical Association. I participated in a plenary session at the 5th International Genocide Conference in Jerusalem, Israel; gave the keynote address at the 2018 Southern Labor Studies Association conference; and will soon head for Edinburgh, Scotland, to give the 2019 Peter Parish Lecture at the annual meeting of the British Association of American Nineteenth Century History.

My scholarship has been recognized with awards and fellowships from a number of institutions, including Yale University (twice), Harvard University (more than twice), the Newberry Library, the Organization of American Historians, the National Park Service, the Georgia Historical Records Advisory Board, Humanities Tennessee, and the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area. I am an Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer and have been awarded a Dunavent Professorship by the University of Memphis.

I have served and continue to serve in many professional capacities, both nationally and internationally as well as inside and outside the academy. I am, for instance, former co-editor of the British-based journal, American Nineteenth Century History; director of West Tennessee History Day an affiliate of National History Day; and co-director of the Memphis Massacre Project, a pioneering initiative that brings together scholars, public activists, community organizers, and government agencies in the first-ever public commemoration of any aspect of Reconstruction's history. I currently chair of two major departmental committees, I conduct teachers' workshops and summer institutes, I review manuscripts for university presses, and I have advised dozens of students, many of whom have gone on to careers in law, finance, business, medicine, and higher education.

I am currently at work on a book titled Becoming Citizens: The Political Lives of Slaves. Under contract with Metropolitan Books, an imprint of McMillan Press, Becoming Citizens offers a new way of thinking about slaves and slavery in the years between Revolution and secession.

Rather than studying enslaved Americans in a place, I study them in motion, a cognitive shift that returns black Southerners as workers to capital's domain, redistributes power, and most of all, reconfigures and repopulates the political universe at one of the most significant watersheds in national history. It was, after all, a very rare slave who, when ordered abroad by an owner, shuttered his or her mind, mouth, eyes, and ears on departure. It is a project that offers a new way of knowing both slavery and slaves, a people who were dreaming and scheming toward a world of full freedom long before the Civil War broke out.

A full accounting of my scholarship and scholarly activities as well as the rewards I have received for the same can be found on my curriculum vitae.