Much of my recent research has focused on African-American intellectual history. My most recent work has examined the history of African-American thought and literature from the colonial period to emancipation, with a focus on the kinds of social, cultural, and political forces that both shaped and were shaped by the efforts of African American writers, and at the complex place African American writers and others occupied in the American public sphere.
This research has grown out of a larger set of projects on African American cultural and intellectual history, including work on African American writing from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a crucial period in the history of American race relations and a more focused project examining the life of Archibald Grimke, one of that era's most influential African American intellectuals. In all, I have attempted to illuminate the great diversity in African American thought and the complexities of African American intellectual life as it has taken shape at various points in history.
My interest in African American history has never been separate, however, from earlier work I have done on the cultures of the American South, work focusing on such topics as race, religion, violence, and political ideas. My most recent work has returned to this area, examining questions of honor, political culture, and regional identity in the South during the era of the early American republic through a study of the "Kentucky Tragedy," a widely-publicized episode of seduction, murder, and suicide from the 1820s.
The Kentucky Tragedy: A story of Conflict and Change in Antebellum America (2006)
The Origins of African American Literature, 1680-1865 (2001).
Archibald Grimke: Portrait of a Black Independent (1993)
Black American Writing from the Nadir: The Evolution of a Literary Tradition, 1877-1915 (1989)
Violence and Culture in the Antebellum South (1979)
And They All Sang Hallelujah: Plain-Folk Camp-Meeting Religion, 1800-1845 (1974)