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Kimberly Welch

Associate Professor of History
Assistant Professor of Law

Kim Welch is a historian of the United States with a focus on slavery, race, and the law in the early American South.

Her first book—Black Litigants in the Antebellum American South (University of North Carolina Press, 2018)—is a historical and socio-legal study of free and enslaved black Americans’ use of the local courts in the slave South. The book investigates unpublished and unexplored lower court records from the Natchez district of Mississippi and Louisiana between 1800 and 1860 in which free and enslaved black people sued whites and other African Americans. Although they present technical and interpretive challenges, local court records represent an important resource for understanding the relationship between legal systems and formally marginalized peoples in racially and economically stratified societies. Black Litigants is the winner of the J. Willard Hurst Prize for the best book in socio-legal history, Law and Society Association, 2019; the David J. Langum Sr. Prize for best book in American Legal History, Langum Charitable Trust, 2019; the James H. Broussard Best Book First Book Prize, Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, 2019;  the Chancellor’s Award for Research, Vanderbilt University, 2019; and the Cromwell Book Prize from the American Society for Legal History, 2019.

Welch’s research has been supported by the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Newberry Library, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the American Bar Foundation, the Law and Society Association, the American Historical Association, the Southern Association for Women Historians, the Cosmos Club Foundation, the University of Maryland, West Virginia University, Vanderbilt University, the West Virginia Humanities Council, and the Dolphe Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. Welch's work has also appeared in the Journal of the Civil War Era, the Law and History Review, Slavery & Abolition, and the Legal History Blog.

In 2019-2020 Welch will be the American Council of Learned Societies Oscar Handlin Fellow in American History, during which time she will work on her current book project. This project, tentatively titled Lending and Borrowing Across the Color Line in the Antebellum U.S. South, examines black moneylenders and their involvement in the credit economy of the early modern Atlantic World. Black lenders in Natchez, Mississippi, New Orleans, Louisiana, and elsewhere throughout the U.S. South entered into credit relationships with whites and other people of color in places as far reaching as Paris, Liverpool, London, Philadelphia, and New York. These relationships of debt and obligation speak to important issues related to the development of market capitalism and to the relations between legal regulations and developing markets more broadly.  

For more on her research, teaching, and publications, see her personal website: