Derek Litvak

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Barra Post-Doctoral Fellow

The Specter of Black Citizens: Race, Slavery, and Citizenship in the Early United States

Derek received a B.A. in History from Virginia Tech before going on to earn his M.A. and Ph.D. in American History from the University of Maryland - College Park. His research focuses on the intersection of African-American, constitutional, and intellectual histories or race and slavery. His dissertation-to-book project explores the centrality of anti-Blackness in early United States history by examining debates surrounding who made the citizenry. It argues that white Americans could not imagine Black people, whether enslaved or free, as citizens of the nation, and shows how those assumptions, while often left unspoken, had far reaching implications for the place of Black Americans in the country. By using a variety of sources, including court cases, legislative records, newspaper debates, pamphlets, and even an opera, Derek's work illustrates how citizenship became a contested status at its inception, as competing groups sought to either create a white ethno-state or a racially egalitarian nation. Furthermore, he shows how these changing nature of citizenship gave Black Americans an opportunity to not only lay claim to the status, but put forth their own visions for the nation. Citizenship quickly became an area to debate the place of race and slavery in the still young nation, and how the United States would develop going into the 19th Century.