For the first time, the American Historical Association has a Black woman president

The American Historical Association (AHA) has appointed Thavolia Glymph as its 140th president, making her the first Black woman to occupy the role. Glymph is a multiple award-winning scholar, a former president of the Southern Historical Association, and a Peabody Family Distinguished Professor of History and Law at Duke University. 

Growing up in the South, she was inspired to love history early in life by her parents, maternal grandparents, an environment that valued education and public life, and frequent trips to her local public library, she told AHA

“History was unavoidable,” she expressed. She started writing two or three-sentence letters to her grandma when she was four years old. Recounting her history education, she said she started studying history at home and in the public library, reading up on American and African American histories, but mostly on European ones because those were the more readily available.

Glymph attended Hampton University, where she gained a better understanding of primary historical research, archival collections, and historiography. She recalled that her teacher at the time, Alice Davis, had been a newly discharged soldier. Davis’s class was where the pacesetter first recognized her interest in conducting research. That’s when the thought that teaching history could be her career path originated.

“Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household,” Glymph’s 2008 debut book, traces the evolution of the Southern plantation household through the experiences of enslaved women and their female enslavers, from the antebellum period through the Civil War and into the postwar era. The book reimagines the Southern plantation household as a site of gendered production, labor, and racial violence.

Her most recent work, “The Women’s Fight: The Civil War’s Battles for Home, Freedom, and Nation,”  which was written in 2020, received many honors, including two AHA prizes: the Joan Kelly Memorial Prize in feminist theory and Women’s history, and the Albert J. Beveridge Award in the history of the United States, Latin America, or Canada from 1492 to the present.

In addition to mentoring academics who are beginning their professional careers, she offers courses on slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction at Duke. Glymph leads an active lifestyle, enjoying tennis and herb gardening when she is not working. 

She maintains that having a childhood interest in history does not automatically translate into being a professor and that there was no “lightbulb moment” that transformed her into the person she is now. It was and continues to be “an improbable journey,” rather than a direct road. 

She is presently the recipient of the Huntington Library’s 2023–2024 Rogers Distinguished Fellowship in 19th-Century American History. 

As the new president of the American Historical Association, the newly appointed officer announced her plans to support the numerous significant current projects and to foster future endeavors aimed at guaranteeing that the work of historians is recognized and appreciated not only by other academics but also “by the larger communities we serve and those we still need to serve who are waiting for us to see them,” she said.

Glymph assumes office at a moment when the Association is pushing for the teaching of truthful history in K–12 classrooms, expanding the definitions of historical scholarship, and more. 

Dollita Okine

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