Introducing Dr. Felicia Jamison, Assistant Professor of History & Comparative Humanities
Professor Jamison works on 19th and 20th-century African American History, Public History, and the Public Humanities. Before coming to UofL, she was an assistant professor of History at Drake University. Jamison received her Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Additionally, she was a President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the History Department at the University of Maryland College Park. Here at UofL she will teach the Intro to the Public Humanities in which students learn about new scholarship in the field and collaborate with local practitioners and community members.
Glenn Crothers (GC): How did your interest in studying history begin?
Felicia Jamison (FJ): I’ve always been interested in stories and learning about the past, but I didn’t become interested in the study of history until graduate school. I was getting my Master’s in Africana Studies at Morgan State University and the program was housed in the Department of Geography, History, and Museum Studies. Most of my professors were historians. They made researching, reading, and telling stories interesting and engaging. I think I became fascinated with the discipline at that time.
GC: I like your description of history as the telling of stories. So, after you finished your MA at Morgan State University, where did you decide to go next to learn the craft of telling historical stories? Who did you study with? Most important, what specific historical stories do you choose to research and tell in your own work?
FJ: One of my professors at Morgan State University, Dr. Brett Berliner, attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He always told students that it was a great place to learn and live. So, when I decided to get my doctorate, I applied to UMass Amherst. As for my research, I knew that I wanted to write about African American people, beginning with my ancestors. Growing up the elders in my family always told us about how our ancestors had bought land after emancipation and they managed to keep it in the family. I wanted to learn more about how they did so. My dissertation was a case study of African and African Americans who lived in my home of Liberty County, Georgia. I traced their history from the founding of the county in the 1700s until the Black Freedom Struggle of the 1940s. My book project builds on it and focuses exclusively on Black women’s role in property accumulation from the 1830s until the early 1900s.
GC: Sounds like a wonderful and timely research project. I look forward to reading your monograph. Let’s switch gears a little bit. How did you develop your interest in Public History, in telling historical stories to a broader public? What sort of public history experience have you had?
FJ: My first real work with public history at UMass was my internship at the W.E.B. Du Bois National Historic Site in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The site was previously opened to the public for self-guided tours. My job was to develop, write, and lead two tours—one at the homesite, which was Du Bois’s maternal family’s home, and one for downtown Great Barrington. Over the summer of 2015, I gave tours at both places. This experience was enlightening for several reasons. One, it showed me that no one tour is ever the same, even if you use the same script. I had to adjust the tours based on the visitors. Some visitors knew nothing about Du Bois, while others were experts who had taken a pilgrimage to the Burghardt homesite. Second, I learned that visitors came to learn about the past and to discuss the present. Many people came wanting to discuss the Ferguson Uprisings of the previous year. As I gave the standard tours, people made connections with Du Bois’s fight for equality in the twentieth century and current social justice issues and wanted to talk. And so, we had those difficult conversations. Finally, I think working at the site made me a better scholar and teacher as I’m now able to engage with a broader, nonacademic audience. On tours I regularly interacted with people who knew little about African American history which made me skilled at telling history concisely, providing important historical context using accessible language, and answering questions on a wide range of topics. These skills have certainly come in handy during class discussions.
GC: What an opportune and enlightening introduction to public history. Considering your experience, what sort of vision do you have for the public history program here at the University of Louisville? What aspects of the public history field would you like to emphasize for students in the history department’s program?
FJ: This is a really good question. Honestly, I think that I will build on the wonderful work that you all have been doing. Scholars here have been doing a great deal of public facing work for years so I will expand those community relationships that are already established. And because I am a scholar of African American history, I am looking forward to working with local institutions and groups to help tell the stories of the Black Louisville community.
GC: And you’ve already begun that process, putting me in contact with the Eliza Tevis Society here in Louisville. So, aside from public history-centered courses, what sort of courses do you want to teach in the history department here at UofL?
FJ: As I have joint appointment in the History and Comparative Humanities departments, I am very interested in teaching interdisciplinary courses. I have taught my undergraduate course “African American History through Cinema” a few times and students seem to enjoy it. I would love to teach a graduate level version in which I can explore the African diaspora and analyze films from the continent, the Global South, Europe, Asia, and the United States. Within the next year I will also teach a graduate level course on African American cultural traditions and religions. This will allow me to tap into my Africana Studies background and teach more about Gullah-Geechee history which I wrote about in my dissertation. I’m excited!
GC: That will be a wonderful addition to our course offerings. Let me close with a more personal question. I know starting a new job in a new city is both exhilarating and incredibly time consuming. But when you’re not wearing your historians’ hat, what sort of activities do you do for fun?
FJ: I love live music. So, I try to catch local events especially of they are in outside venues like parks. I also love road trips. I’ve been very busy this semester, but I would really like explore nearby cities like Nashville or Cincinnati in the near future. And I really enjoy cinema. I’ve already watched several films at the Speed Art Museum. The last film that I watched in theaters was the Woman King. It was wonderful!