Participant Info

First Name
Last Name
Vanderbilt University
Website URL
U.S. Slavery, Legal History, Early America, Race, African American History, Women and Gender, Law and Society
Additional Contact Information

Personal Info

About Me

I am a historian of the nineteenth-century United States with a focus on slavery, race, and the law in the American South. I approach the study of the law and slavery from the bottom up. Rather than focusing on statutes and appellate court decisions as conclusive expressions of law, I examine trial court records, church disciplinary hearings, and other local legal records that emphasize the role ordinary people played in shaping legal processes. Generally, I am interested in changing understandings of what law is and who is it for. The antebellum U.S. South, in particular, offers a fruitful place for thinking broadly about who defines law and rights. Scholars often think about rights as something given or provided through nature or statute, but my research shows that the history of rights is far more discontinuous; for rights are more properly imagined as things claimed through rhetoric—and often, the rhetoric of those without formal power. This interest in the intersection between law and rights and race and rhetoric has led me from examining the world of legal “outsiders,” both black and white; to how property featured in the African American legal imaginary; and from there to the gritty world of lending and borrowing across the color line.

Recent Publications

Black Litigants in the Antebellum American South, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018 (John Hope Franklin Series)

“William Johnson’s Hypothesis: A Free Black Man and the Problem of Legal Knowledge in the Antebellum U.S. South, ” Law and History Review, forthcoming

“Black Litigiousness and White Accountability: Free Blacks and the Rhetoric of Reputation in the Antebellum Natchez District,” Journal of the Civil War Era, 5, no. 3, (September 2015): 372-398

Media Coverage
Country Focus
Expertise by Geography
United States
Expertise by Chronology
4, 5
Expertise by Topic
Law, Politics, Race, Slavery, Women