Walter Johnson's work focuses on slavery, capitalism, and, increasingly, imperialism in the nineteenth century. His first book, Soul by Soul (1999) used the slave market as a way to think about the fantasies, fears, negotiations, and violence that characterized American slavery. Since then, he has written a series of essays about social and historical theory relating to the history of slavery in the U.S.: on the idea of "agency" as the organizing theme of scholarship; on notions of time; on theories of capitalism and slavery; and on the idea of reparations for slavery as a historical narrative. Most importantly, he has written a history of the Mississippi Valley between the Louisiana Purchase and the Civil War entitled River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Imperialism in the Mississippi Valley (2013). While retaining a focus on the immediate experience of slavery and mastery, this book also embeds the history of slavery in the U.S. in the histories of global capitalism (especially the cotton trade and the Atlantic money market) and U.S. imperialism (the Louisiana Purchase, the illegal invasions of Cuba and Nicaragua in the 1850s, and the effort to reopen the Atlantic Slave trade on the eve of the Civil War). He is currently writing a book about the 1841 revolt aboard the slave ship Creole.
Walter Johnson received his B.A. from Amherst College and his doctorate from Princeton University. Before coming to Harvard, he taught History and American Studies at New York University.
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