The Carter G. Woodson Institute, U.Va.

The Carter G. Woodson Institute

for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia

Woodson Fellows


My project, "In the Time of Disaster: Representations of Hurricane Katrina in African American Literature and Culture", explores African American post-Katrina cultural production that engages the political, cultural, and social effects of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi. I read the spatio-temporal parameters of Black post-Katrina films, music, and literature to consider how these texts challenge and revise our cultural memory of the storm.


Brian C. Smithson is a cultural anthropologist who studies the audiovisual cultures and religions of West Africa. As a Woodson Research Associate, Brian is completing a book titled Aesthetics of Praise: Making Movies Religious in Bénin—a story about cash-strapped movie producers, Christian–Muslim animosities, and professional rivalries in Yorùbá-speaking Bénin. The book shows how moviemakers overcome these hurdles by championing Yorùbá indigenous religion, its ethical principles, and its moral demands.


Under the direction of Michael Awkward, “A House to Sing In” considers the lives, times, and cultural expressions of Amina Baraka, Nina Simone, and Elaine Brown. By studying these three black revolutionary women together, I consider the extent to which they simultaneously complied with and resisted gendered formulations of revolutionary identities. I challenge African American Studies’ dichotomous misrecognition of black women as either extraordinary because they are, as Joy James states, “not bound to a male persona,” or ordinary because they are publicly bound to a male persona.


Amanda White Gibson is a doctoral candidate at the College of William and Mary. Her research uncovers the credit market experiences of those most vulnerable to the externalities associated with the slavery-based capitalist economy. It describes enslaved and free African Americans’ use of credit from the American Revolution to the Civil War; how enslaved individuals borrowed to free themselves, what happened when they did not pay debts imposed on them by the jail system, and free and enslaved African Americans’ employment of credit at stores and banks.


Matthew Greer is a Ph.D. Candidate in Anthropology at Syracuse University, where his studies focus on the archaeology of enslaved life.  His dissertation project, Assembling Enslaved Lives: Labor, Consumption, and Landscapes in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, uses historical archaeology, Black studies, and assemblage theory to write the stories of enslaved people in back into the history of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.


My current research positions rural East Africa within a broader global narrative of environmental management and social change by examining the role that access to water played in colonial Kenyan statecraft between 1938 and 1963. I study three development projects in the arid and semi-arid landscapes of Kenya, where the colonial government invested thousands of pounds expanding water access into the hinterland to spur agricultural production.


My research reveals how human geographies of the Atlantic slave trade shaped colonial rule in the Gold Coast, leading to the British state’s early—and path-breaking—downfall. In March 1957, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African country to achieve independence from colonial rule. My project suggests that it is no coincidence that it is also the territory where the colonial state owned the lowest proportion of land—a fact owed to transformations in human-land relationships during the slave trade.

Mann Carey

My dissertation is an ethnographic and community-engaged study investigating the impacts of state violence on black women and communities in Brazil and Colombia. Centering the grassroots leadership of Black women, I examine how they organize and resist the myriad forms of state oppression that intersect and interact in their everyday lives. I use a framework of intimacy as a way to understand Black women’s political thinking and action by articulating how intimacy and activism intersect, through emotions, grief, homes as organizing sites, and the politicization of motherhood and care.


Jillean McCommons is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at the University of Kentucky. My dissertation project, “The Black Appalachian Commission: Regional Black Power Politics and the War on Poverty, 1969-1975,” is a social history of the Black Appalachian Commission (BAC), a Black-led grassroots organization created to address the specific needs of Black people in the thirteen states that comprise the Appalachian region.


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