Daina Ramey Berry is an associate professor of history and African and African diaspora studies at the University of Texas. She lives in Austin, Texas, and has been a member since 1996.
Alma maters: BA (history), UCLA, 1992; MA (African American studies), UCLA, 1994; PhD (history), UCLA, 1998
Fields of interest: 19th-century, African American, slavery, gender and women’s history
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? I made the decision to become a historian as an undergraduate. Initially, I majored in economics but changed to history after taking an African American history course. My advisor, Brenda E. Stevenson, joined the faculty during my last year at UCLA and her course on slavery influenced me to pursue graduate work in African American studies and history. I stayed at UCLA for all of my degrees and went on to become a professor teaching at Arizona State University, Michigan State University, and now, the University of Texas at Austin.
What do you like the most about where you live and work? I live in Austin, a city quite similar to some of the California cities I spent my childhood and young adult years. It is a moderately sized city with an outdoor culture that appeals to me. Despite miserably hot summers, Austin weather is ideal for most of the academic year, which is good for my California roots!
What projects are you currently working on? I am currently finishing two projects: an edited book, Sexuality and Slavery (with Leslie Harris), and a co-authored book, A Black Women’s History of the United States (with Kali Gross).
Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how? Not much. I have decided to study slavery and recently came to the conclusion that I am a scholar of the enslaved interested in exploring the lives of those in bondage. I also am committed to doing work in black women’s history and want to know more about the domestic slave trade.
What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research? I found a family tree made out of locks of hair. When I came across it I was shocked because it looked like a real tree and literally had hair from four generations of a slaveholding family. Believe it or not, this very tactile tree helped me locate the names of members that I was not aware of, and led me to plantations and an enslaved community I had been trying to identify.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members?Even with all of the new material on slavery, I am a huge fan of the film Sankofa by Haile Gerima.
What do you value most about the history discipline? I like that our profession is about interpreting the past and that we come to this research from multiple angles.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you? I am a member of the AHA because it is one of the governing organizations of the history profession and I appreciate their standards and best practices (available on the website).
Do you have a favorite AHA annual meeting anecdote you would like to share? No, only that I look forward to conferences in warm climates!
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.