Exciting Opportunities at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center with Dr. Susanna Ashton

Dr. Susanna Ashton is one of  the Clemson English Department’s best, keeping busy as a professor, former department chair and currently working as the W.E.B. Du Bois scholar for the 2021-2022 academic year at Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. Her knowledge of English literature and research of 19th century American freedom and slavery narratives led her to this opportunity to further her work. Ashton is using her time at Harvard to finish her book, “A Plausible Man: The Life of John Andrew Jackson,” and learn as much as she can to continue to shape her classes at Clemson. 

Dr. Susanna Ashton

​​ The W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute at the Hutchins Center was opened in 1975 as a facility for scholars to conduct research in a “wide variety of fields related to African and African American Studies.” Creating opportunities for research about the lives and experiences of African Americans at the Hutchins Center encourages increased public awareness and education. 

This prestigious position at Harvard is offered to very few candidates every year. Alongside Ashton, there are around 15 scholars who dedicate their time to conducting research on subjects like hip-hop and Afro-Latin American experiences. Scholars are offered resources such as administrative support and complete access to one of the most extensive libraries in the world. The copious amount of information can be overwhelming, but Ashton says, “…the librarians have been generous with their time in helping me navigate new systems and new ways of even conceiving questions I might explore with their astounding and abundant resources.” 

Through collaboration as well as her own individual research, Ashton is becoming even more specialized in studying the lives and experiences of enslaved persons. Her most pressing project is a book that details the life of John Andrew Jackson, a man who escaped from a plantation labor camp in South Carolina and became a trans-Atlantic writer, activist and civic agitator. After years of working on this project, Ashton can finally see the finish line. 

“Jackson was arrested several times and had many run-ins with the law and, as I recently discovered, he even escaped from a chain gang in 1871 when he was over 50 years old! Thus much of the work I am doing most immediately involves Jackson’s life in the context of the history of slavery and the carceral system,” said Ashton. “I am working with people here to learn more about jails, prisons, chain gangs, forced labor and how the legacy of slavery practices in the United States is woven into how we understand the carceral system and theories of abolition today.” 

Ashton is thoroughly enjoying her experience at Harvard, describing herself as feeling “positively giddy” and “drunk with scholarly happiness.” She will be finishing her residency this spring and coming back to Clemson with a rich abundance of new knowledge. The research she has conducted at Harvard makes her excited to bring new ideas to the classroom.

“I look forward to shaping some of my Clemson classes with a richer sense of how narratives of history are just that, narratives that are shaped with an eye to craft, language, rhetoric and art, just as any other form of writing might be” said Ashton. 

The honor of receiving the W.E.B. Du Bois fellowship is something that Ashton does not take lightly. She describes Du Bois as “unquestionably one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century.” Ashton says that she has many ideas percolating and she is excited to test them out in the classroom. This extraordinary opportunity excites Ashton for what’s to come next when she returns to Clemson next year. 

Learn more about the 2021-2022 scholars here: https://hutchinscenter.fas.harvard.edu/2021-2022-Fellows-Announcement

Written by: Chandler Brown



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