OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

OAH Distinguished Lectureship program 40 years 1981-2021

Premilla Nadasen

Portrait of Premilla Nadasen

Premilla Nadasen is an associate professor of history at Barnard College, Columbia University. She researches and writes about race, gender, social policy, and labor history. She is the author of several books, including Welfare Warriors: The Welfare Rights Movement in the United States (2005), which chronicles the emergence of a distinctive brand of feminism forged by black women on welfare, and Household Workers Unite: The Untold Story of African American Women Who Built a Movement (2015), a history of domestic worker activism in the postwar period. She has won fellowships and honors for her work, including the American Studies Association's John Hope Franklin Book Prize, the Sara Whaley Book Prize, and the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Article Prize. In addition to her academic writing Nadasen has been engaged with social justice work for many years, including antiapartheid and antiracist activism, labor rights, feminism, immigrant rights, and low-income women's advocacy. For the past ten years she has worked closely with the domestic workers' rights movement. Nadasen bridges her scholarship and activism, striving to make her research accessible and relevant. She has written policy briefs; has served as an expert academic witness; has written for newspapers, blogs, and magazines, including Ms., the Root, Al Jazeera, and Jacobin; and has spoken on issues of labor and poverty on college campuses and to community and activist groups. She is most interested in visions of social change and the ways poor and working-class people, especially women of color, have fought for social justice.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

What can we learn from history about how social change happens? Nadasen chronicles key moments of legislative, political, and social change in the postwar period and argues that the impetus for change came from community activists. organizers, and grassroots mobilization. Using the civil rights movement, welfare rights movement and women's movement as examples, she suggests that grassroots activists shift the political climate and generate pressure that creates greater possibilities for progressive change.
The Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative, domestic worker organizing, the women's march, #blacklivesmatter, #metoo, #sayhername, #wewillnotbeerased, sanctuary cities, prison abolition: a new multi-issue intersectional movement with women, woman-identified or gender nonconforming people at the center. Nadasen looks at these and lesser-known examples of resistance rooted in a black feminist history that offer a vision for social transformation.