My research examines the development of the southern United States, uncovering ways in which seemingly competing notions of freedom and slavery, tradition and change, and reform and honor shaped life and labor in the region. Political struggle and social anxiety marked southerners’ lives—on the plantation, in the fields, and within their sanctuaries. Understanding how these men and women ordered their worlds and negotiated political, economic, and social relations informs the questions I ask and the projects I pursue. I am the author of Masters, Slaves, and Exchange: Power's Purchase in the Old South (Cambridge University Press, 2014), which examines slaves’ underground economic exchange as a means of understanding the master-slave relation and have published essay-length articles on southern honor, civic identity, slave life and culture, and southern agriculture.
My current book project, Bonds Burst Asunder: The Revolutionary Politics of Getting By in Civil War and Emancipation, 1860-1867, examines the transformation of southern political economy during the era of the American Civil War and African American emancipation, exploring how crisis and transition exposed weaknesses in slavery’s cruel paternalist bargain. Spanning the crisis from South Carolina’s secession in 1860 to the rise of Radical Reconstruction in 1867, it focuses on two central questions: how did white and black southerners recreate and transform relations of power in the chaos of civil war and emancipation? And how did the political economy of “getting by” in wartime shape the way old ties were exploded and new ways negotiated?
I am also at work on two long-term projects, a biographical microhistory of notorious southern slaveholder and politician James Henry Hammond and, with Lawrence McDonnell, a study of the rise and fall of the British planter class seen through the lens of Antigua's Codrington plantations.