Research Interests

Research Themes

My research focuses on issues of race and criminal justice in the Americas. In my first book, Slavery on Trial (2007), I looked at how race and class influenced policing, criminal trials, and the penal system in the slave city of Richmond, Virginia.  More recently, I have published Crime and Punishment in African American History (2012).  Drawing on original research and wide-ranging recent scholarship, this book explores everyday African American experiences of violence and law enforcement alongside famous trials and court decisions from the eighteenth century to the present. It uncovers the diversity of black experiences of criminal justice and argues that resistance to oppressive policing, punishment, and vigilante justice has advanced the broader struggle for black freedom and driven an ongoing process of criminal justice reforms.  It also makes the case that engagement with this complex history is critical to understanding the relationship between race and criminal justice in the present. Alongside this project, I have written a series of articles on aspects of race, violence and law enforcement in New York and Pennsylvania from the 1860s to the 1930s and co-edited a collection of essays and primary documents on the Reconstruction era.

Current Research Projects

I am currently working on a British Academy funded project examining the history of murder and the death penalty in Jamaica since the abolition of slavery.  My research aims to establish who was executed in Jamaica and why, analysing the role of social, economic, cultural and political developments in shaping popular and legal responses to murder and the decision to enforce the death penalty.  It also takes up questions of legal history, exploring issues such as the impact of Jamaica’s new Court of Appeal on capital sentencing in the 1930s and the growing involvement of the British government and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in Jamaican death penalty cases in the 1940s.  The legal debates and death penalty practices of that period have significant connections to recent JCPC judgments that have prevented any executions taking place in Jamaica since 1988.

I am also co-editing a collection of original essays called Translating Penal Cultures which stems from two international seminars held in 2012 funded by the AHRC.

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