The beautiful waterfront, the historic buildings and monuments, and the friendly people. These are just a few of Mia Bay’s favorite things about Chestertown, her home away from home until May 2022. As the 2021-22 Patrick Henry History Fellow at Washington College’s Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, she is spending the academic year in residence while working on her newest book project—African American ideas about Thomas Jefferson from the American Revolution through the post-emancipation era. In her work, Bay hopes to use African American discussions of Jefferson to present connections between early Black struggles for freedom and civil rights and African American claims on American nationalism and citizenship.
This fall, during a virtual event that featured an in-depth conversation about her work, Bay shared how she arrived at the idea for her latest book about Jefferson.
“I’ve been interested in African American ideas about Thomas Jefferson since I wrote my doctoral dissertation, which became my first book on African American ideas about white people,” she said. “And in researching that book, I was surprised by how often they [African Americans] were talking about someone like Jefferson.”
Bay also reflected on how residing in Chestertown—and inside an 18th century house—is affecting her work while in residence for the year. “When I was working on this project before, I lived briefly on the borders of Monticello in a very old house, near the Jefferson Library, and I felt like I was in the middle of it. And now, once again, I feel that I’m back in that world, and I think it’s useful,” she said. “Chestertown’s evidence of history is fascinating. The monument to white Confederate and Union soldiers and then a second monument to Black soldiers that fought for the Union—all these different, competing histories. I think it will influence me. I think it will be a really good place to be.”
Bay currently holds the Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Chair in American History at the University of Pennsylvania and was previously professor of history at Rutgers University. She has been the author or editor of seven books, most recently Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance, which was published earlier this year by Harvard University Press. In the book, Bay explores when, how, and why racial transportation restrictions took shape and depicts what it was like for so many to live within those restrictions. A review in the New York Times called it “superb history” and praised the author for her elegant storytelling and seamless narration, while Henry Louis Gates, Jr., wrote that it was certain to become the new standard work on an important but often forgotten chapter of American history.
This spring, Bay will bring her professorial talents to the Starr Center as she leads and mentors a team of Washington College student interns.
“Mia Bay is one of the nation’s most important contemporary voices on African American history and culture,” said Adam Goodheart, the Starr Center’s Hodson Trust-Griswold Director. “Her work speaks to our nation’s present as well as its past. We’re honored to support her, and particularly excited that Washington College’s students have the opportunity to learn from such an accomplished scholar, writer, and teacher.”
The Patrick Henry History Fellowship is cosponsored by Washington College’s Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and the Rose O’Neill Literary House. A full-time, residential fellowship, it supports outstanding work on American history by both scholars and non-academics with an emphasis on America’s founding era and/or the nation’s founding ideas. The fellowship was established and permanently endowed in 2008 with a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as support from the Nuttle family, descendants of the Revolutionary patriot Patrick Henry. For a list of past recipients, visit: starrcenter.washcoll.edu.
About the Starr Center
Washington College’s Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience explores the American experience in all its diversity and complexity, seeks creative approaches to illuminating the past, and inspires thoughtful conversation informed by history. Through educational programs, scholarship and public outreach, the Starr Center bridges the divide between the academic realm and the broader world, while offering dynamic hands-on opportunities to Washington College undergraduates from a wide range of majors. More information can be found at starrcenter.washcoll.edu.
About Washington College
Founded in 1782, Washington College is the tenth-oldest college in the nation and the first one chartered after American independence. It enrolls approximately 1,250 undergraduates from more than 35 states and a dozen nations. With an emphasis on hands-on, experiential learning in the arts and sciences, and more than 40 multidisciplinary areas of study, the College is home to nationally recognized academic centers in the environment, history, and writing. Learn more at washcoll.edu.