James Sidbury

WEBSITE(S)| Center for African and African American Studies

James Sidbury received his PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 1991 and taught at the University of Texas at Austin from 1991 until 2011. He is a historian of race and slavery in the English-speaking Atlantic world from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century with a special interest in the ways that non-elite peoples conceived of their histories and, through their histories, their collective identities. He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on Atlantic History, Early North American History, and the history of race and slavery in the United States and the Caribbean.

He is currently at work on a synthetic book analyzing the era of the American Revolution as an era of race formation. The book will seek to explain how and why many African peoples, European peoples and Native peoples living in what became the United States each developed a sense of racial identity as, respectively, black, white and red people sometime between 1750 and 1815. It begins by exploring the senses of human difference that prevailed in Africa, America and Europe prior to 1492, and then traces the ways those understandings of self and other changed as a result of intercultural contact and conflict, especially during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. By bringing the processes of racial formation to the fore, this project seeks to offer an alternative angle on our understanding of the beginnings of the Unites States. In addition, he is working on smaller projects ranging from an examination of the relationships between black American settlers of the British colony of Sierra Leone and the indigenous peoples who were living in the region to broader synthetic discussions of ethnogenesis among Africans, Americans and Europeans in the Atlantic world, and he is co-editing an anthology of essays with Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra (University of Texas at Austin) and Matt Childs (University of South Carolina at Columbia) on the urban black Atlantic during the era of the slave trade.

Selected Publications: 


  • Becoming African in America: Race and Nation in the English Black Atlantic, 1760-1830 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007)
  • Ploughshares into Swords: Race, Rebellion, and Identity in Gabriel’s Virginia, 1730-1810 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1997)


  • "'African' Settlers in the Founding of Freetown," in Suzanne Schwarz, Paul Lovejoy and David Richardson, eds., Rebuilding Civil Society in Sierra Leone, Past and Present (forthcoming 2011).
  • "Mapping Ethnogenesis in the Atlantic World" (with Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra), William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 68 (April 2011), 181-208.
  • "On the Genesis of Destruction, and Other Missing Subjects" (with Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra), William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 68 (April 2011), 240-46.
  • "From Igbo Israeli to African Christian: The Emergence of Racial Identity in Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative" in Africas of the Americas: Beyond the Search for Origins in the Study of Afro-Atlantic Religions, ed. by Stephan Palmié (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 79-106
  • "Globalization, Creolization, and the Not-So-Peculiar Institution," Journal of Southern History, LXXIII (August 2007), 617-30.
  • "Rhys Isaac and History's Uneasy Kingdom: A Review Essay," Journal of Southern History, LXXII (May 2006), 429-42.

Research Areas

Early American history, Atlantic history, Southern history, History of race and slavery, Native American history


PhD, Johns Hopkins University

MA, Johns Hopkins University

BA, John Hopkins University


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