Jessica Parr

I teach at Simmons College in Boston.  I hold degrees from the University of New18892933_10154779649603163_1779628409756971019_n Hampshire at Durham (Ph.D. and M.A., History, 2012), and Simmons College, Boston (M.A. History, M.S. Archives Management, 2005; B.A. History, with Departmental Honors, 2000). I am a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and I have held fellowships and grants from the Boston Athenaeum, the American Studies Association, the John Hope Franklin Research Center at Duke University, Gilder Lehrman Institute, Mystic Seaport, and  the Congregational Library. I serve on the Executive Board of the New England Historical Association. I am also a co-List Editor for the H-Atlantic network, and I serve on the editorial board of The Programming Historian. My research interests include race in the Early Modern Atlantic World, memory studies, and digital scholarship.

My first book, Inventing George Whitefield: Race, Revivalism, and the Making of a Religious Icon was published by the University Press of Mississippi (2015; paperback 2016). I explore Whitefield’s development as a symbol shaped in the complexities of revivalism, the contest over religious toleration, and the conflicting roles of Christianity for enslaved people. Evangelical Christianity’s emphasis on “freedom in the eyes of God,” combined with the problems that the rhetoric of the Revolution posed for slavery, also suggested a path to political freedom. My analysis of the evolution of Whitefield’s thought on slavery is among the book’s central contributions. Another major contribution is my analysis of Whitefield’s afterlife.

I am currently at work on a book that explores the evolution of Black thought between 1660 and 1830. In the white Anglo-American context, “slavery” and “freedom” were discussed in political, legal, and religious terms. This dialogue led to metaphysical understandings of chattel slavery in the British Empire, and involving political, legal, and religious structures that legitimized the permanent enslavement of Africans. While only a relatively small minority of Englishmen (later Britons) raised political, legal, or moral problems with slavery, the institution of slavery nonetheless needed to be defined, and particularly how it contrasted with what it meant to be English in the early years of Britain’s direct involvement with the slave trade. For thinkers and writers of the Black Atlantic, “slavery” and “freedom” were discussed primarily on religious and political terms, engaging with the Anglo-American interpretations of law and religious designed to disenfranchise them. What began as a means to describe and legitimize chattel slavery was reinterpreted bye writers of the Black Atlantic who, from the 1760s onward, used the political and religious language in their own terms to describe a post-slavery Black Atlantic.