On January 6th, Dr. Thavolia Glymph became the 140th president of the American Historical Association. She is the first Black woman to hold this honor. Dr. Glymph is the Peabody Family Distinguished Professor of History and professor of law at Duke University. She is the past president of the Southern Historical Association.
Professor Glymph joined the faculty at Duke University in 2000. She is a graduate of Hampton University in Virginia and holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.
She takes office amid the Association’s urgency to broaden the definitions of historical scholarship, advocating for the teaching of honest history in the K–12 classroom, and more.
Thavolia’s interest in history is deeply rooted. As she grew up in the South, “history was unavoidable.” She found a love for the subject early, spurred on by her parents, maternal grandparents, a community that valued education and public life, and frequent trips to her local public library. At home and in the public library, she “became a student of history,” reading histories of the United States and African Americans, but more often those of Europe, which were simply more abundant in the library.
More importantly, it’s also where she took classes taught by Alice Davis. Thavolia remembers Davis as a no-nonsense instructor not much older than herself, recently discharged from the military, who introduced her to the joys of research and the work of historian Harold D. Woodman.
It was in Davis’s class, Thavolia says, that she first realized what kind of research she wanted to do and possibly making a career as a history teacher.
Attending Hampton University, a historically Black college founded in 1868, was “clarifying” for Thavolia. It was her first encounter with original historical research, archival collections, and the true breadth and depth of historiography.
Thavolia brings that economic lens to the history of the 19th-century United States, particularly the fields of Southern history, labor history, and women’s history.
Glymph is the author of Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household (Cambridge University, Press, 2008) and The Women’s Fight: The Civil War’s Battles for Home, Freedom, and Nation (University of North Carolina Press, 2020). This latest book explores the role of women during the Civil War.
It shows the complicated battles that women — Black and White, enslaved and free — took on to define the meaning of freedom, home, and nation in the North and South.
Above all else, Thavolia insists that there was no light bulb moment that made her who she is today, and being interested in history as a child does not lead one inevitably to the professoriate. It was and remains “an improbable journey,” not a direct path.
As president of the AHA, Dr. Glymph says she will work to “support the many important existing initiatives and encourage future efforts that aim to ensure that the work of historians is seen and heard not only by other scholars but by the larger communities we serve and those we still need to serve who are waiting for us to see them.”