Race historian in America gets an unusual four-book deal

Historian Martha S. Jones has a knack for writing deeply researched histories that delve amidst the turmoil and turmoil of our national politics—sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.

“Birthright Citizens,” his 2018 scholarly study of 19th-century history debates black citizenship in America, arrived in a moment When some conservatives held the idea of ​​ending the 14th Amendment’s guarantee that everyone born in America is automatically a citizen.

“Pawn,” A political history of black women challenging the popular narrative of the suffrage movement, last August coincided with the centennial of the 19th Amendment—but it also coincided with the election of Kamala Harris as America’s first female vice president.

Now, Jones, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, has signed an unusual four-book deal with Original Books that will address the intriguing history of race, slavery and identity. And among them will be a “manifesto” on the role of history in the current racial count.

Today’s wars of history, she said in an interview, may only intensify as the nation approaches the 250th anniversary of its founding in 2026 – and requires more from historians, she argues, as the NS fist of cynical scholars Which often grabs the attention of the public. He argues that the role of historians is not simply to provide expertise, but to consider what people want from history, and to look at their responses with empathy.

“If we remove our blinders, it’s no wonder that first-timers in this history of racism, slavery and Jim Crow are shaken, upset, even confused,” she said. “I’m not someone who wants to use history as a game of gotchas.”

(Jones isn’t the only historian to present a manifesto on the subject. Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux have recently signed on Princeton scholar Matthew Karp to write a book in detail. Her recent, much-loved Harper’s essay On History Wars, which argued that Americans on both sides politically demanded too much from history.)

In addition to the Manifesto, Jones’ books, acquired by Brian Distelberg of BASIC, will include works that provide an in-depth investigation into the archives, including A Family History, a major new account of the “Black Women Atlantic World” from the Haitian Revolution. as has been described. 19th century, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Tanny, who wrote the infamous Dred Scott regime of 1857, which declared that black Americans could never be citizens.

No publication dates have been set yet. But Jones said she was already working on the first book, a re-evaluation of racial identity in the United States with a focus on the history and legacy of slavery’s sexual violence.

It’s a topic that’s born A growing scholarly literature. It will also be a personal book, Jones said, drawing on his family history As the child of a black father and white mother and as the great-granddaughter of an enslaved black woman named Isabella Holly and the white man who enslaved and raped her.

Jones said the book would aim to change how we understand Black biracial and mixed-race identities, colorism and “so-called light skin”, and passing, which he said were not peripheral issues, but rather the idea of ​​race. were central to

That said, scholars have often treated those two intellectual aspects separately. “But as I’ve been able to dive into my family’s collection,” she said, “I explore through the women in my family how those two stories are related.”

She said, “The women in my family have faced and faced in different and changing ways, but the problem of light skin or colorism or passing in an early history of sexual violence has been suppressed and denied. “

Jones said that it was a subject that she did not always find easy to write about, but it was also a topic that resonated with students of many different types of mixed identities. With all of our difficult history, she said, “we have the opportunity in our time to let this be a source of understanding and strength, rather than confusion and shame.”

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