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Name: Charlotte James

PhD: American Studies

Thesis Title: 'Heroic Souls': The Memory of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth


Thesis Description:

My project is the first extensive study of the memory of 19th century African American female abolitionists. In placing this memory at the centre of a wider debate about the use of historical figures in the black freedom struggle, I demonstrate how notions of an "appropriate" black female leader have greatly manipulated representations of black women. My focus is on Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, the only two black female abolitionists to achieve iconic status in public memory. I show how writers, artists and activists shaped their images to both echo and challenge 20th and 21st century ideas on race and black resistance, especially non-violent resistance as the preferred mode of black activism and white male leadership as central to black liberation. Using an interdisciplinary methodology that draws on literary texts, sculptures, murals and artwork, I chart the evolution of their representations from the Reconstruction period to today. By contextualising their memory, this project places Tubman and Truth at the centre of an argument that shows how 20th century representations used the antislavery movement as a microcosm of the black freedom struggle.


Supervisors and Institutions:

Professor Peter Ling (University of Nottingham)

Associate Professor Stephanie Lewthwaite (University of Nottingham)

Professor Zoe Trodd (University of Nottingham)



  • 'Our Own Tools:  Historical Antislavery Leadership Techniques’ with Zoe Troddin Using History ed. by Kevin Bales (University of California Press, forthcoming 2019)
  • ‘They don't play, or run, or shout... They're slaves’: The First Survey of Children's Literature on Modern Slavery, Journal of Modern Slavery, 4:2 (2018) 143 - 168
  • ‘Historians Against Slavery Conference Review’, US Studies Online, published 22nd December 2017


Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:


  • ‘You can’t sit around and wait for somebody to say who you are. You need to write it and paint it': Portrayals of Black American womanhood through representations of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth', British Association for American Studies Postgraduate Conference, 6th to 7th December 2019 at The British Library
  • 'Women's History Online Resources - Our Placement at The British Library', with Alice O'Driscoll, presentation to colleagues at The British Library, 6th August 2019
  • 'Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Black feminist scholars from the 1970s and 1980s', Society for the History of Women in the Americas (SHAW) Annual Conference, 5th July 2019
  • 'A Young Determined Harriet Tubman: The Power of Photography in the Memory of Harriet Tubman and Nineteenth Century Black Activists', Visualising the Americas: Americanist Research Symposium, 3rd June 2019
  • 'VLE/Moodle Redesign in the Arts' with Neil Hughes and Gary Fisher, Teaching and Learning Conference, 3rd May 2019
  • 'Representations of Sojourner Truth and the Absence of ‘Ar’n’t I a Woman’, Society for the History of Women in the Americas (SHAW) Annual Conference, 6th July 2018
  • ‘Heroic Souls’: The Memory of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth’, European and British Association for American Studies Conference, 4th – 7th April 2018

  • ‘The Political Memory of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Black Female Abolitionists’, HOTCUS Winter Symposium, 17th February 2018 

  • ‘Sculptures, Murals and Artwork: The Antislavery Memory of Harriet Tubman’, Postgraduates Against Slavery Conference, 6th October 2017

  • Race, Gender and Sexuality (RaGeS) Writing Retreat, 21st June - 28th June 2019, M4C Funded (co-organiser) 
  • Future Academics Digital Learning Workshop, April 2019, University of Nottingham, M4C Funded (co-organiser) 


  • 'Women's History Online Resources' Placement with The British Library, June to September 2019
  • 'Images of Modern Slavery', Hyson Green Cultural Festival, Nottingham, 9th May 2018
  • ‘American Slavery and Abolitionism’, American Studies Lecture Series, Sutton Coldfield Grammar School for Girls, 5th December 2017
  • Archives Assistant for Feminist Archive North 2015 - worked with Jalna Hamner, a women's rights activist and member of the Women's Aid Federation, to organise her personal papers and create a history of WAF
  • Volunteer for The National Trust 2012 - 2013; roles included volunteer coordination, events organisation, archiving materials and research organisation 


  • Moodle Assistant, University of Nottingham from June 2018 to present - I am involved in the editing and redevelopment of online modules for the University of Nottingham's online learning platform Moodle 
  • Research Assistant, The Rights Lab from Sept 2017 to Sept 2019 - I researched modern slavery murals and curated the first online archive of modern antislavery murals 'Imagining Freedom'

Other Research Interests

  • Memory and Heritage
  • African American History
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Gender History and Feminisms
  • Historic and Modern Slavery
  • Children's Literature
  • Heritage




University email address:

Twitter: @charejames 

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