Hannah Hicks is a fifth-year graduate student in nineteenth-century U.S. History. Her dissertation, “Troubling Justice: Women on Trial in the American South, 1865-1900,” draws on archival court records from South Carolina to examine Black and White women’s roles as defendants and as complainants in the criminal courts. The project demonstrates how Black and White southerners alike heatedly contested the role that the criminal courts would have in a post-Emancipation society. Freedwomen in particular swore out arrest warrants and acted as complainants against those who had wronged them, making radical claims to personhood and protection from the very criminal justice system that, according to our existing historical narratives, served only to control and incarcerate Black southerners, including Black women. Even after White conservatives’ violent political “Redemption” of South Carolina in the late 1870s, freedwomen resiliently continued to swear out arrest warrants and demonstrate their belief that the law could and sometimes did act as a tool of the marginalized to negotiate for change. Second, “Troubling Justice” aims to shed light on an aspect of nineteenth-century criminal trials that most histories of incarceration and legal histories have neglected: the resilience and self-advocacy of women on trial and women convicted of crimes. To a remarkable extent, women in the criminal courts marshaled their resources and knowledge of the legal system to advocate for themselves.
She is also working on a separate but related project concerning conjure specialists, African American medical practitioners who employed herbal and ritual knowledge to treat patients in the post-Civil War South. This project draws on court records to explore how conjure specialists proved resilient after Emancipation and reveals that they also faced legislation criminalizing their practices and prosecutions by physicians who sought to eliminate them as competition in the medical marketplace.
Her advisors are Professors Kimberly Welch and Arleen Tuchman.