Susan Eva O’Donovan
Associate Chair of the Department
Coordinator of West Tennessee History Day
Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer
Office: 126 Mitchell
Education: Ph.D., University of California, San Diego, 1997
/docs/cv_odonovan.doc (MS Word)
Fields of Interest
My work focuses on the history of enslaved women and men, the Civil War, emancipation,
and that period we call Reconstruction as regional, national, and transnational phenomena.
My interest in these areas led me initially to the Freedmen and Southern Society Project,
and then formed the intellectual core of my first book, Becoming Free in the Cotton South. Published in 2007 by Harvard University Press and recipient (among others) of the
Organization of American History's James A. Rawley Prize in 2008 for the best book
in the history of race, Becoming Free in the Cotton South explores the gendered dimensions of work in slavery and the ways in which those always
contingent dynamics shaped black people's expectations, aspirations, and experiences
These interests inspire much of my current work as well. For instance, my new project,
Slaves and the Politics of Disunion, is an attempt to expand and repopulate what we think of as the political universe
by taking into account those who had the greatest stake in one of this nation's greatest
debates: the enslaved. It is research that challenges decades of scholarly interpretation
by approaching enslaved women and men as agents of historical change, individuals
who in attempting to advance their own interests helped shape an increasingly volatile
political terrain. It is research that calls on us to rethink the origins of the Civil
War and as a result, the consequences of a war that cost as many as 700,000 lives.
Last but not least, it is research that asks of the past today's questions about technologies
of knowledge, and where and how politics happens.
These interests likewise weave through and animate my ongoing contributions to the
Freedmen and Southern Society Project, the After Slavery: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post-Emancipation Carolinas, educational initiatives like National History Day, and American Nineteenth Century History, the British-based, peer-reviewed scholarly journal that I co-edit with Bruce Baker
of Royal Holloway University, London.
I teach broadly in colonial and nineteenth-century American history. Many of my courses
focus explicitly on African American experiences in slavery and emancipation and on
the Civil War era. But I also offer instruction in history and memory, Atlantic slavery
and freedom, the philosophy of history, historiography, and historical methods. In
respond to a growing interest and demand, I have been gradually redesigning my courses
to better illuminate the dynamic relationship that fixes the local in the global,
and in coming years I look forward to developing wholly new courses.Top on the list
is a course that juxtaposes the rise of cotton and the rise of Memphis, as well as
a consciously interdisciplinary course that will investigate the fruitful junction
of geography and history in the context of American slavery.
My most recent publications reflect my fascination with this nation's passage through
slavery and war to an ongoing debate about freedom's meanings. As guest editor of
the April 2009 issue of the OAH Magazine of History, I joined other historians to introduce educators to the newest scholarship on antebellum
slavery and ways in which to teach it. More recently, I continued this discussion
by bringing together another team of scholars whose essays in Teaching the Civil War in the 21st Century raise provocative questions about the war's origins, its combatants, its geography,
and its memory.
In a series of essays that have appeared in various anthologies, including Children in Slavery: A Global History (2009), Buried Lives: Incarcerated in Early America (2012), and Slavery and Freedom in Savannah (under review), I have been seriously and systematically rehearsing what I currently
see as major themes in Slaves and the Politics of Disunion. Likewise, I regularly submit my work to the scrutiny of scholarly audiences: for
example in early 2012, tackling the political paradox of slave hire before the Washington
D.C. Seminar in Early American History and discussing the problematic triptych of
women, work, and mobility with an interdisciplinary audience at the Sarah Isom Center
for Women and Gender Studies at the University of Mississippi. Academic year 2012-13
will see the publication of the second post-war volume from the Freedom and Southern Society Project: Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1868, ser. 3, vol. 2, Land and Labor, 1866-67, as well as a collection of essays developed out of the work of the After Slavery Project.
Those with inquiring minds (or no lives) may consult my cv for a complete list of publications, activities, and pedagogical interests and initiatives.