AHA Member Spotlight: Françoise N. Hamlin

Françoise N. Hamlin

AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, AHA Today features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series. The members featured in this column have been randomly selected and then contacted by AHA staff. If you would you like to nominate a colleague for the AHA Member Spotlight, please contact Nike Nivar.

Françoise N. Hamlin is the Hans Rothfels Assistant Professor of History and Africana Studies at Brown University. She lives in Rhode Island and has been an AHA member since 2001.

Alma Mater/s: BA, University of Essex (UK); MA, University of London (UK); PhD, Yale University

Fields of interest: U.S. history, particularly histories of race, African Americans, women, social movements, culture, and social change.

When did you first develop an interest in history?
I took my General Secondary Certificate in Education (GCSE) in history with an amazing teacher in whose class I learned how to research, write, and critically analyze sources and ideas. He introduced me to American history and it interested me much more than the history of the British monarchy! When I went to Clarksdale, Mississippi, as an exchange student during my “gap” year, I saw in the textbooks how history is not objective and that the written record reflects the victors. My interest, therefore, stemmed from injustice and the purposeful withholding of knowledge, compelling me to change my career trajectory and ultimately write the history that had not been told.

What projects are you working on currently?
I have just published Crossroads at Clarksdale: The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta After World War II (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2012), and I am working on my next book exploring the concept of young people as activists during the mass civil rights movement.

What is the last great book or article you have read? 
I am reading a lot of the new scholarship in African American history, in part catching up from the reading hiatus that I imposed in order to finish my book! The last novel I read is The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall–a parody of Gone with the Wind, imagining the life of Cynara in her own words. The book smartly cuts through the nostalgia of the Old South celebrated in the best-selling classic while complicating the multi-faceted black characters located in Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; and the southern plantation.

Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?
I would recommend to anyone teaching anything on Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to screen the entire “I Have a Dream Speech,” not just the last third. It will provoke intense discussion in the classroom about the radical reach of King in 1963, and then how his memory has been distorted, edited, and silenced. I screen it every semester because I am surprised how few have had access to the entire piece. It becomes a platform from which to have the more difficult conversations about power, ideology, and its historical foundations.

What do you value most about the history profession?
As a foreign-born scholar and teacher of mostly 20th-century American history I have really experienced how historical knowledge and understanding matters. From the classroom (and a generation coming of age with an African American president in office), to the chaotic news/entertainment media that has successfully wrenched any depth or accountability from journalism, newscasts, and even fictional productions, I see the value of understanding and analyzing current issues through the lessons of the past.

Other than history of course, what are you passionate about?
I consider myself a scholar-activist, and while I can successfully transform minds in the classroom and help my students understand and empathize with the recent past, I often present to constituencies off campus. I break down and discuss new knowledge and scholarship on the mass civil rights movement with grade school teachers, enabling them to present these histories more creatively and effectively. Through Primary Source, http://www.primarysource.org/, I have had this opportunity for many years. Similarly I take every chance (both locally and in Mississippi) to address school students, and to present this history and encourage their aspirations for college.

Ultimately, my family is my primary passion. The horror at Sandy Hook Elementary in December, reinforced my already strong conviction that our children are our greatest resource and we have to do better in so many areas to make sure they are safe and get the best education that enables them to be globally competitive. I strive to be a better scholar, teacher, and mentor for my son and his future.

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