Research Projects


_DSC2612I am currently working on my dissertation, tentatively titled, “Creating Her Own Perceptions of Beauty: Black Girls and their Needlework in Early America.” This research focuses on Black girls as historical subjects and the needlework they created during the late 1700s and early 1800s in the northeastern United States.  Examined with methodologies that use material culture as primary evidence, their needlework can provide valuable clues about the lives of these Black girls in northern cities during the antebellum period. As historian Nazera Sadiq Wright wrote in her 2016 book, Black Girlhood of the Nineteenth Century, “we can better understand the lives of black girls in the contemporary by uncovering the power they wielded in the nineteenth century.”[1] Wright answers the call of activist and scholar, bell hooks, from her 1996 book Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood when she stated, not enough is known about the experience of Black girls in our society. I build on their work and that of many other scholars to highlight the importance of centering Black girls as historical subjects and their material culture to better understand American history, the history of education in the United States, the history of sampler-making, and the world history of embroidery.

[1] Nazera Sadiq Wright, Black Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2016), 4.

Image: Courtesy of Winterthur Textile Conservation Lab. I am examining a Marking sampler by Mary D’Silver at Bray Associates Negro School,  Philadelphia, PA, 1793, Silk on Linen, Museum purchase with funds provided by the Henry Francis du Pont Collectors Circle, 2014.33.

March 2020

In the Spring I had the opportunity to travel to Austin, Texas for the first time. The trip was to attend the African American Intellectual History Society conference with fellow members of the Colored Convention Project, Dr. P. Gabrielle Foreman, Kevin Winstead, Denise Burgher, Brandi Locke, and Briana Richardson. While in Austin, we searched the archives for documents related to Texas conventions, interviewed Dr. Daina Ramey Berry, and I presented at the conference. The panel I had the blessed opportunity to organize with Prof. P. Gabrielle Foreman and shared with Dr. Daina Ramey Berry, Dr. Shirley Moody-Turner, and Dr. Andrea Roberts, was entitled, “Digital Blackness: Visualizing (Post)-Slavery.” My paper was entitled, “The Colored Conventions Project: Interpreting the Labor of Black Women and Girls in the Movement.”

AAIHS Twitter Post

AAIHS Twitter Post - Panel

 Images: Courtesy of @ccp_org.

Spring 2018

family record embroidery by Sarah Ann Major Harris
Courtesy Winterthur Museum, Sampler worked by Sarah Ann Major Harris, 1826-1828, Canterbury, Connecticut, Silk on Linen.

Research & Writing: “Needlework Samplers & the Formation of Black Girlhood Identity in Early America”

This paper builds on the research I conducted in the summer of 2017. I learned about the girlhood embroideries of Sarah Ann Major Harris of Canterbury, Connecticut {pictured above} and Rachel Ann Lee of Baltimore, Maryland during the year. Therefore this paper folded their lives, families, and stitched work into the previous work centering Mary D’Silver and Olevia Rebecca Parker.

Sarah Ann Major Harris crafted her family record sampler sometime between the years of 1826 and 1828 when she is in her mid-teens. Unfortunately, her teacher and school at the time of the creation of the sampler is unknown. Harris, however, is very well known for her activism in the history of Canterbury, Connecticut, as the first Black student to integrate the Prudence Crandall School for Young Women and Little Misses in 1832 at the age of twenty years old. Rachel Ann Lee created her canvas needlework as a student at the Oblate Sisters of Providence’s St. Frances Academy in 1846. The inspiration for this sampler if unknown, however could it have been the location of the Sisters of Providence School in Baltimore, Maryland, another building that held significance to Lee, or possibly it was an image Lee found visually appealing and decided to replicate in a sampler.

Summer 2017

Delaware Public Humanities Institute (DELPHI) Summer Research Project: “By the Work of Their Hands: Needlework & the Education of Philadelphia’s Young Black Schoolgirls, 1793-1852”

D'Silver,Mary Needlepoint
Courtesy, Winterthur Museum, Marking sampler by Mary D’Silver at Bray Associates Negro School,  Philadelphia, PA, 1793, Silk on Linen, Museum purchase with funds provided by the Henry Francis du Pont Collectors Circle, 2014.33

This summer my research centered two needlework pieces created by girls in schools established for Black children in the city of Philadelphia. Both pieces are in the Winterthur Collection. Spanning a period of fifty-nine years, Mary D’Silver worked her piece {pictured left} in 1793 while a student at the Negro School established by Associates of Dr. Bray and Olevia Rebecca Parker worked her piece in 1852 while a student at the Lombard Street School. I see these needlework pieces as artifacts of resistance for the girls. Tracing the lives of these two Black American girls who left behind material evidence in the form of needlework, is an avenue to help us better understand how Black Americans maneuvered in society as free citizens of a burgeoning nation and world power.

Spring 2017

Research & Writing: “At Home in Philadelphia: Material Culture in the Home of Aged and Infirm Colored Persons”

Abstract: This paper seeks to further our knowledge of identity-making in the Black community of Philadelphia through the analysis of material culture remaining of the Home for Aged & Infirmed Colored Persons (HAICP).  This project looks to use the HAICP as a case study of efforts by African American leaders as they maneuvered in a structurally racist society to support the elderly and sickly of their community, while upholding “politics of respectability.” This paper asserts evidence of intersecting cultural influences from African and European-Americans throughout the HAICP. This paper relies on the archives of Swarthmore College and the Library Company of Philadelphia, as well as is indebted to the scholarship of Leslie James Pollard’s research on the HAICP. The scholarship of Leslie James Pollard Complaint to the Lord: Historical Perspectives on the African American Elderly provides to date seven remaining photos of the interior, which will ground the discussion of the paper. Ultimately through this research, this project seeks to contribute to the growing scholarship of nineteenth and early twentieth century material culture and African American history in Philadelphia.

Abstract written by: Simone Austin, 02.24.2017 & edited by: Kelli Coles, 07.13.2017

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