OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Susan Eva O'Donovan

Portrait of Susan Eva O

Susan Eva O’Donovan is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Memphis. She has held appointments with History and African & African American Studies at Harvard and at the Freedmen and Southern Society Project at the University of Maryland. A scholar of nineteenth-century race, labor, and politics, her research focuses on the African American experiences in slavery and freedom. The author of Becoming Free in the Cotton South (2007), she is co-editor on two volumes of Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867: Land & Labor, 1865 (2008) and Land & Labor, 1866-67 (2013), as well as a number of articles and book chapters, including “Writing Slavery into Freedom’s Story,” in Beyond Freedom, ed. David Blight and Jim Downs (2017), and “Universities of Social and Political Change: Slaves in Jail in Antebellum America,” in Buried Lives, ed. Michele Lise Tarter and Richard Bell (2013). In 2016, she became co-director of the Memphis Massacre Project, one of the first public reckonings with Reconstruction and its legacies and is co-editor of Remembering the Memphis Massacre: An American Story (2020). She is currently at work on a new project, Becoming Citizens: The Political Lives of Slaves. Under contract with Metropolitan Books, Becoming Citizens explores the relationship between what slaves did for their owners, and what they came to know and do for themselves in the years leading up to secession. O’Donovan is a recipient of numerous awards, including the James A. Rawley Prize from the OAH for Becoming Free, and fellowships at Agrarian Studies, the Newberry Library, and the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. As the West Tennessee District Coordinator for National History Day, she works to improve history education at the secondary level: conducting teachers’ workshops and developing materials for use in middle and high school classrooms.

OAH Lectures

Slaves of the State: Infrastructure and Governance through Slavery in the Antebellum South