Walter Johnson

Walter Johnson

Fellow: Awarded 2010
Field of Study: U.S. History

Competition: US & Canada

Harvard University

Walter Johnson, Winthrop Professor of History and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, established himself as one of the most insightful American historians writing today with his very first monograph: Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market (1999). Using the slave market as the hub of his study, he investigated not only the economics of the trade, but what it revealed both about the paternalism, white supremacy, class-conscious materialism of the slaveholders and the effects of their ultimate dependence on slave labor, and the subtle manipulation of the buyers by the slaves as they strove to present themselves in such ways as to attract the “best” masters—or to discourage the worst ones.

Soul on Soul garnered a slew of prominent awards: the Thomas J. Wilson Prize from Harvard University Press; the Organization of American Historians’ Avery O. Craven Prize in 1999 and its Frederick Jackson Turner Prize (cowinner) in 2000; the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic’s SHEAR Book Prize; the American Studies Association’s John Hope Franklin Prize; and the Southern Historical Association’s Francis B. Simkins Award (cowinner). In addition it was a History Book Club selection. Soul on Soul is now required reading in many graduate seminars.

Among his other publications are “Inconsistency, Contradiction, and Complete Confusion,” Law and Social Inquiry, 22:2 (1997); “Possible Pasts: Some Speculations on Time, Temporality, and the History of the Atlantic Slave Trade,” Amerikastudien/American Studies, 45:4 (2000); “The Pedestal and the Veil: Rethinking the Capitalism/Slavery Question,” Journal of the Early Republic (Summer 2004); and “White Lies: Human Property and Domestic Slavery Aboard the Slave Ship Creole,” Atlantic Studies, 5:2 (2008). He also edited The Chattel Principle: Internal Slave Treades in the Americas, 1808-1888 (2004) and (with Richard Follett and Eric Foner) Latitudes of Freedom (2010).

During his Guggenheim Fellowship term, Mr. Johnson will be completing his latest study, tentatively titled River of Dreams: Slavery, Capitalism, and Imperialism in the Mississippi Valley. In this study, he will be expanding his researches to include the impact of the national and international markets for cotton not only on the slave trade but on land use and Southern attempts at Caribbean conquest.


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