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Catherine A. Molineux

Associate Professor of History

Catherine A. J. Molineux

As a historian of the British Atlantic world, Catherine Molineux explores the histories of race, slavery, and empire in early North America and the Caribbean, Britain, and West Africa. Trained in history, literary criticism, and art history, she brings an interdisciplinary methodology to her research and teaching.  She is the author of Faces of Perfect Ebony: Encountering Atlantic Slavery in Imperial Britain (Harvard University press, 2012), as well as articles in the William & Mary Quarterly, English Literary History, Modern Philology, and Radical History Review.

Faces of Perfect Ebony: Encountering Atlantic Slavery in Imperial Britain (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, January 2012) 

Faces of Perfect Ebony explores practices of bondage and human trafficking in Britain from 1660 to 1807, illuminating an era in which Britain became the leading slave trading nation in Europe. Of the three million Africans trafficked by British merchants in this period, most ended up in British American colonies.  Yet slavery was not out of sight and out of mind for those in Britain.  Employing an array of sources (shop signs, trade cards, engravings, ceramics, textiles, portraits, plays, novellas, jewelry, furniture, and so on), she argued instead that Britain’s emergence as the leading slave-trading nation in Europe and its turn to practices of slavery deeply shaped British culture.  Atlantic slave-trading came to define Britons as imperialists, placing persons of color at the center of evolving notions of power and mastery, salvation, fraternity, virtue, racial difference, and bondage.  Her attention to a non-traditional historical archive, as well as the traditional one, uncovered an emergent sense of interracial connectedness.  This popular consciousness produced deep social and cultural conflicts among white Britons as enslaved African, African American, and black British resistance on plantations, ships, and in London streets challenged their overarching narratives of empire.

Molineux is currently finishing a microhistory of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo and Lamin Yao, two Muslim Senegambian slave traders who were captured and sold into American slavery but managed to emancipate themselves and return to West Africa.  Employing a material culture and place-based analysis, the book examines how West African juridical practices and ideas about freedom shaped the British Atlantic slave trade.  By layering the story Ayuba told about himself with the stories told about him from the 18th to the 21st centuries, this microhistory allows readers to grasp the depth to which modern struggles against racism and prejudice engage not only the structural residues of slavery that continue to create inequity, but also the legacies of African, African American, and black British efforts in the eighteenth century to challenge the right to trade and own people.

Molineux received her Ph.D. in British Atlantic History from Johns Hopkins University. Her scholarship has been generously funded by fellowships and awards from the American Council of Learned Societies, Chancellor Faculty Fellowship Fund at Vanderbilt University, The Huntington Library, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt University, John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, The Clark Memorial Library at UCLA, American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and Harvard University.


Undergraduate Courses

American History: Discovery to Revolution

London: From Roman Camp to World City

The Birth of Capitalism and Human Trafficking

Environmental History Capstone Seminar

The Senses of Happiness: A History

Pirates, Plantations, and Power: The English Atlantic World, 1500-1688

The Art of Empire

History of Early America Capstone Seminar

New Worlds, New Bodies: Gender and Sex in Colonial America


Graduate Courses

Readings in American History to the Civil War

Introduction to Historical Methods and Research

Studies in Comparative History: Visual Culture

West Africa and the Atlantic Slave Trade

Commerce and Culture in Early America

Urban British Atlantic History

Race and Slavery in the British Atlantic World


Articles, Book Chapters, Exhibitions, and Other Contributions

  • Consultant, Frist Art Museum, Nashville, “Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick,” Jul-Oct 2021,
  • Consultant, Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery, “Sympathetic Magic: Works of Faith, Healing and Transformation,” Aug 2021-Jan 2022,
  • A Senegambian King in an Englishman’s Bed: the King of Saloum, Francis Moore, and the Making of Early Modern Sovereignty,” Modern Philology 119.1 (Aug 2021): 77-93
  • “Color Separation” in “Telling Stories,” online exhibition, Launched June 2019
  • “Putting Europe in its Place: Material Traces, Interdisciplinarity, and the Recuperation of the Early Modern Extra-European Subject,” co-authored with Carina L. Johnson, Radical History Review, Issue 130 (Jan 2018): 62-99
  • “Making the Middle Passage: Maritime Dimensions of Abolitionist Debate,” in Peter C. Mancall and Carole Shammas, eds., Governing the Sea in the Early Modern Era (San Marino: Huntington Library Press, 2015), 275-309
  • Consultant, “Figures of Empire: Slavery and Portraiture in Eighteenth-Century Atlantic Britain,” Yale Center for British Art, Oct-Dec 2014,
  • “Europe and Africa.” In Oxford Bibliographies in Atlantic History. Ed. Trevor Burnard. New York: Oxford University Press, November 2014
  • “False Gifts/Exotic Fictions: Epistemologies of Sovereignty and Assent in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko,” English Literary History 80.2 (Summer 2013): 455-488
  • Interviewee, Black Europe, Film on Black European Studies, in association with Robert Penn Warren Faculty Seminar on "Black Europe," distributed to Tennessee high schools, 2009
  • “Pleasures of the Smoke: ‘Black Virginians’ in Georgian London’s Tobacco Shops,” William & Mary Quarterly, 3rd Series, 64. 2 (Apr 2007): 327-376
    • Received the 2008 James L. Clifford Prize, the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies’ annual award for the best article on an eighteenth-century subject from any discipline
  • “Hogarth’s Fashionable Slaves: Moral Corruption in Eighteenth-Century London,” English Literary History, Special Issue (Jun 2005): 495-520