Hannah Rosen

Portrait of Hannah Rosen
Image Credit: Elizabeth Wood

Hannah Rosen is an Associate Professor of History and American Studies at William & Mary. Her research and teaching focus on African American social and cultural history and particularly on slavery, emancipation, Reconstruction, and on race and gender in the nineteenth-century United States. She is the author of Terror in the Heart of Freedom: Citizenship, Sexual Violence, and the Meaning of Race in the Postemancipation South (2009), which received the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians First Book Prize, the Civil War and Reconstruction Book Award from the OAH, and the Willie Lee Rose Prize from the Southern Association of Women's Historians. She is currently working on two book projects. The first treats African American experiences surrounding death and burial in the nineteenth-century South and the effects of the segregation of southern cemeteries in the post-emancipation period. The second, a collaboration with other historians as well as literary and legal scholars, investigates enslaved women’s experiences of sexual violence in the antebellum United States. She has also worked extensively on efforts to achieve greater racial equity within university life for students and faculty.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

The legal culture of the antebellum South sanctioned sexual violence and terror against enslaved women. However, the legal record also leaves evidence of the ways in which these forms of domination were contested by the enslaved. This lecture explores avenues of protest and strategies of survival crafted by enslaved women while forced to live under the oppressive, violent system of labor and sexual exploitation that was American slavery.
In the nineteenth century, African Americans lived intimately with death due to the exploitation, deprivation, and violence their communities suffered in slavery and freedom. In this context, burial grounds became important sites for, and signs of, community healing, solidarity, and identification. This lecture examines independent cemeteries that many Black communities established after emancipation as an example of the ingenuity and resistance that characterized African American political life following the end of slavery. The lecture also explores how, as white southerners were obliged to share public life as never before with African Americans, local white leaders often turned to burial as one means within reach to constitute racial difference and inequality anew – indeed, literally building them into the ground – by creating obstacles to Black people’s dignified burial. The inequitable distribution of resources to and within new segregated cemeteries have left us, generations later, with Black and white cemeteries often sitting juxtaposed within one town or city and serving as dramatic monuments to the material inequality that was produced through segregation.
Throughout her career as a researcher, Hannah Rosen has sought a deeper understanding of the processes that have created and reproduced difference and inequality in American society. For the last decade, she has focused that inquiry in part on how racial inequity has been perpetuated, and exacerbated, within university life. This lecture shares what she has learned through leadership roles in a number of policy and curricular revision efforts aimed at increasing racial equity and opportunity on campus.
During the years of Reconstruction, former slaves looked ahead to the opportunities made possible by their new status as free persons while many white southerners resisted those possibilities by targeting freedpeople with violence, including sexual violence against Black women. This lecture examines the effort of formerly enslaved women to document to federal officials the sexual violence that they and their communities suffered. These women's testimony about rape before congressional investigating committees and the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands provides a window onto both white-on-Black rape in this period and also onto how African American women claimed rights as citizens by demanding protection from violence and by affirming their identities as individuals with the same bodily integrity and “honor” as others. Black women’s testimony reveals how new rights to refuse the demands of white men for sex and to control their bodies and sexual relationships were for African American women a central part of the meaning of freedom.