Rebecca Fraser

Rebecca Fraser


  • 2.09 Arts and Humanities Building

Accepting PhD Students

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Personal profile


My research is primarily concerned with the ways in which discourses of gender, race and sexuality were articulated and interacted in the context of nineteenth century America.

My most recent project concerns Black Female Intellectuals in nineteenth century America. Black Female Intellectuals in Nineteenth Century America: Born to Bloom Unseen? Black Female Intellectuals in early 19th Century America (New York and London: Routledge, 2022) offers an interdisciplinary analysis to explore individual Black women’s active contributions to the public discourses of 19th century America. Drawing on letters and personal testimony, works of art, novels, and historic black newspapers, Born to Bloom Unseen? reconceptualize the idea of what is meant by the term "intellectual" to bring those who have previously been excluded from the scholarship of Black intellectualism more generally, and Black female intellectuals specifically, into the center of the debate. 

Those who I explore in Born to Bloom Unseen? are a diverse group of Black women whose entry into the national arena was sometimes unintended, relatively unnoticed, and faded from the historical record relatively quickly. These were women like the formerly enslaved quilt artist, Harriet Powers, whose work has been typically catalogued under “folk-art” and removed from considerations of the intellectual. It also includes women such as Laura Simmes, Lizzie Hart, Amanda Turpin, and Julia C. Collins, - all women who contributed to the Black newspaper The Christian Recorder during the Civil War. These women wrote as mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives but, more importantly, they wrote as Black women themselves, stealing time away from the labors of their life to pen their thoughts to the Recorder on meaningful and important political concerns. The two Edmonia’s – Lewis and Highgate – one a teacher (Highgate) working in the field as an activist educating freedpeople and their children; the other, Lewis, a sculptor, whose many beautiful works produced in Rome have been “lost.” The relative exclusion of both of these women from Black intellectual histories is unexplained and unexplored in previous work.    

 Other Black female intellectuals included in Born to Bloom Unseen? are arguably better known in specific academic fields and popular culture. These include abolitionist, feminist activist, author, and journalist, Frances E. W. Harper; formerly enslaved abolitionist, campaigner for women's rights, and author, Sojourner Truth; and formerly enslaved Harriet Tubman, who escaped from slavery and subsequently returned to the slave South to assist others who wanted to take flight. Tubman became a vocal abolitionist and worked as a conductor on the Underground Railroad helping other enslaved people to freedom. These women sit alongside America’s first Black female political writer, Maria W. Stewart, and first Black female editor of a newspaper, Mary Ann Shadd Cary. While these women may be more familiar to certain audiences, the book situates them within modes of representation and performance, reflecting on contemporary audience reception to these overtly political Black women.  

As part of a wider project I lead an AHRC-funded network, "Black Female Intellectuals in the Historical and Contemporary Context," from 2019-2021. This network brrought together scholars, both early career (including PhD students) and more established academics, working on Black female intellectuals in the Black Atlantic including Australia, the Caribbean, Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The key point of the network was to share interdisciplinary understandings of Black female intellectuals from both historical and contemporary perspectives thinking through different questions. The network organised several workshops and public events including "In Conversation" sessions with Prof Barbara Savage (Penn); playwright and broadcaster, Bonnie Greer OBE.  Public lectures were also hosted as part of the network featuring Prof Shirley Anne Tate (Alberta); Prof Patricia Williams (NorthEastern); and Dr Hilary Emmett (UEA). For further details see the project website at

 My previous projects have included a focus on transitional gender identity in nineteenth century America and intimate relationships among enslaved people. The former work focussed on Sarah Hicks Williams, a middle class woman born and raised in New Hartford, New York, who, in 1853, married Benjamin Williams, a physician and slaveholder from Greene County, North Carolina. Sarah relocated to Benjamin’s plantation following their honeymoon to take on the role of plantation mistress to the 37 or so enslaved peoples there. The monograph, Gender, Race and Family in Nineteenth Century America: From Northern Woman to Plantation Mistress (Palgrave MacMillan: November 2012) concerns Sarah’s experiences of transition: from North to South; “true woman” to “southern lady”; single young woman to wife and mother. It is a story of the shifting nature of antebellum identity, yet calls into question the regional differences that were said to have existed between gender ideals of the “free North” and the “slave South” in this era. As a consequence of this research and in collaboration with Norfolk’s Black History Month Celebrations in October 2012 an exhibition of several of Sarah’s letters and a related series of Public Lectures and Café Conversations was held at the Millennium Library, Norwich: see

The latter work (based on my PhD research at the University of Warwick) explored the emotional lives of enslaved couples in antebellum North Carolina.  The project situates courtship and love among the enslaved as central to shaping thier everyday lives. It also reflects on practices of courtship as a form of resistance for the enslaved. Courtship and Love among the Enslaved in North Carolina, was published in 2007 with the University Press of Mississippi. I have also published a co-edited collection concerning the era of Reconstruction with ABC Clio in 2008 as part of their “Perspectives in American History Series”.


Fraser, Rebecca J. Black Female Intellectuals in Nineteenth Century America: Born to Bloom Unseen? Routledge, 2023. 

Fraser, Rebecca J. Gender, Race and Family in Nineteenth Century America: From Northern Woman to Plantation Mistress. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Fraser, Rebecca J. (2008) Reconstruction: People and Perspectives. ABC-CLIO; 1 edition . ISBN 9781598840216

Fraser, Rebecca J. (2007) Courtship and Love Among the Enslaved in North Carolina. University Press of Mississippi, p. 137. ISBN 1934110078


Fraser, Rebecca (2020) “ ‘Why sit ye here and Die’? [Maria W. Stewart, 1832]: The Counter-Hegemonic Histories of the Black Female Intellectual in Nineteenth Century America," Journal of American Studies, 

Fraser, Rebecca (2018) ‘I Must Speak, I Must Think, I Must Act.’ [Laura Simmes, 1864] The Christian Recorder, Literary Activism, and the Black Female Intellectual.” Slavery and Abolition.

Fraser, Rebecca (2011) 'No more Sarah Hicks': A Reconfiguration of Antebellum Time and Space for an Elite White Woman. Slavery and Abolition, 32 (2). pp. 213-226. ISSN 0144-039x/ 1743-9523

Fraser, Rebecca (2005) Courtship Contests and the Meaning of Conflict in the Folklore of Slaves. Journal of Southern History, 71 (4). pp. 769-802.

Fraser, Rebecca (2004) Goin' Back Over There to See That Girl: Competing Spaces in the Social World of the Enslaved in Antebellum North Carolina. Slavery and Abolition, 25 (1). pp. 94-113.

Book Section

Lets us Begin Life Anew, and Learn to Live in Earnest! (Julia C. Collins, “Life is Earnest”, Jan 7th 1865): Free Black Women and the Challenges of Freedom in the Civil War Era,” in The Civil War and Slavery Reconsidered: Negotiating the Peripheries edited by Laura Sandy and Marie Molly. New York and London: Routledge, 2019.

“Gender and the Home: Domestic Spaces and Families in Nineteenth Century America” in A Cultural History of the Home in the Age of Empire edited by Jane Hamlett. New York and London: Bloomsbury Press, 2020.

“Home and Belonging in Antbellum America: The Letters of Sarah Hicks Williams,” in The Edinburgh Companion to Nineteenth-Century American Letters and Letter-Writing edited by Celeste-Marie Bernier, Judie Newman and Matthew Pethers. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016.

Fraser, Rebecca (2009) Negotiating their Manhood: Masculinity amongst the Enslaved in the Upper-South 1830-1860. In: Black and White Masculinity in the American South, 1800-2000. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 76-94. ISBN 9781443805964

Fraser, Rebecca (2008) The Meaning of Freedom for African American Men. In: Reconstruction, Perspectives in American Social History. ABC-CLIO; 1 edition, pp. 1-20. ISBN 9781598840216


Key Research Interests

My research is primarily concerned with the interaction and articulation of race, gender, and sexuality in nineteenth century America. I would be happy to take on research students working in the following areas: gender and sexuality in nineteenth century America; race in the nineteenth century America; history of enslavement on the North American mainland from colonial period to 1861; Civil War and Reconstruction with an emphasis on race and gender; historical biographies (with a particular emphasis on gender and race) in nineteenth century America; African American cultural and intellectual lives.


I am currently starting a new research project concerning enslaved girls, as they moved from childhood through their teen years. This will focus on not what was done to them by enslavers, but their networks of support, including female kin and friendships, and their experiences of “coming of age” and aspects of growing up as a girl in the 19th century South, when enslaved, with the onset of menstruation, bodily changes, and sexual awakenings.

Key Responsibilities

School Roles:

  • Athena Swan and EDI Co-Lead (July 2019 - Jan 2023)
  • Postgraduate Research Director (June 2015-July 2017; July - Nov 2018).
  • Deputy Unit of Assessment Co-Ordinator (PGR) for American Studies: August 2014 – January 2015.
  • Panel member of Faculty Appeals and Complaints Panel: 2012-2015
  • Course Director for American with English History, September 2005 – August 2012.
  • Director of Postgraduate Taught Courses (September 2007 – September 2008; May 2009 – September 2009; January 2010 – December 2010.
  • Director of Postgraduate Research Courses for AMS: Sept 2007 – Sept 2008; May 2009 – September 2009; January 2010 – August 2011.
  • Chair of MA exam board (2006 – 2007; 2009 - 2010).
  • Panel Member of MA Programme Review (May 2010)

University Roles:

  • Faculty Lead for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, June 2021-Current
  • Faculty Director: Postgraduate Taught Programmes, (August 2012 – July 2015)

Areas of Expertise

Black Intellectual History; Slavery in the USA; African American history and culture; Gender and sexuality in 19th century America; Gender studies in contemporary United States.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
  • SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals

External positions

External Member - Research Degree Committee, Courtauld Institute

13 Jul 201914 Jun 2023

External Examiner - Race and Resistance MA (History), University of Leeds

1 Mar 20183 Nov 2021