Leslie A. Schwalm

Portrait of Leslie A. Schwalm

Leslie A. Schwalm is Professor Emeritus of history and gender, women's, and sexuality studies at the University of Iowa, where she taught courses on women's history, slavery, emancipation, and the Civil War. She is the author of prizewinning articles, books, and chapters on women's experiences of slavery, emancipation, and the Civil War; the struggle for civil rights in the postwar nation; and popular memory of slavery and the Civil War. Her first book, A Hard Fight for We: Women's Transition from Slavery to Freedom in South Carolina (1997), which won the Southern Association of Women Historians' Willie Lee Rose Prize as well as the Association of Black Women Historians' Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Prize, explores enslaved women's experience of the wartime destruction of slavery and reveals their efforts to define and defend black freedom in postwar South Carolina. Her second book, Emancipation's Diaspora: Race and Reconstruction in the Upper Midwest (2009), considers the northward migration and relocation of newly freed people during the Civil War and finds national meanings and consequences of emancipation in their fight for full citizenship rights in the upper Midwest. Her forthcoming book, Medicine, Science, and Making Race in Civil War America (2023) explores the Union's wartime commitments to racial ideology in medical and scientific research as well as in the medical care provided to Black civilians and soldiers during the war. She is also co-founder of the Iowa Colored Conventions Project, tracing the political activism of Black Iowans through eighteen statewide conventions in the second half of the 19th century.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

This lecture considers the wartime endeavors by Northern white medical and scientific practitioners and researchers to master what they thought was knowable about Black bodies: what whites saw as Black peculiarities, distinctiveness, possibilities, and limitations. In these white Northerners’ efforts to create and possess medical and scientific authority over African American bodies and to commodify that knowledge as part of medicine's professionalization, there is a deep correspondence with the commodification of Black bodies by slave traders and slave owners. Schwalm approaches these developments as part of the enduring violence of slavery, even during the war that ultimately ended slavery.