Heather Williams Appointed Presidential Professor and Professor of Africana Studies

Heather Andrea Williams has been named the sixth Presidential Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, effective July 1. Williams will be Presidential Professor and Professor of Africana Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Williams is one of the world’s leading historians of the experience of slavery in the 19th century. Her award-winning first book, Self-Taught: African-American Education in Slavery and Freedom, argued that education was inseparable from the fight against slavery. It used extensive archival research to retrace the importance of literacy for African Americans across the 19th century, from the pre-Civil War era through emancipation and its aftermath. Her second book, Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery, charts the decades-long searches that followed the forced separations of African American families by slavery, especially in the 1860s and 1870s. 

Williams’ work has been supported by grants and fellowships from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, Ford Foundation and National Humanities Center, among others. She earned a Ph.D. in American studies in 2002 from Yale University.

Presidential Professorships, supported in part by a $2 million grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts and originating in the Action Plan for Faculty Diversity and Excellence, first issued in 2011, are awarded to exceptional scholars, of any rank, who contribute to faculty eminence through diversity across the University.

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