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Dr Brian Kelly

PhD (Brandeis University)
Reader in History

On Sabbatical Semester 1 2015-16

Senior Tutor / Employability Co-ordinator (Sem 2)

MA US History Co-ordinator (Sem 2)

Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 3435

Office: 14UQ.105

Brian Kelly is one of three historians in the School specializing in the US South. A labour historian with a special interest in race and class relations in the post-Civil War South, his early work explored the record of interracial cooperation between black and white workers in industrial Birmingham, Alabama. His first book, Race, Class and Power in the Alabama Coalfields, 1908-1921 (Illinois, 2001), won a number of awards, including the Southern Historical Association’s H. L. Mitchell Prize for an outstanding book in Southern working-class history and its Frances Butler Simkins Award for the best first book by an author in Southern history. In the years since he has published widely on the problem of racial antagonism and its impact on working-class politics in the US, with studies that range from labour abolition in the antebellum period through to the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike, during which the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Formerly a Walter Hines Page Fellow at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina, he has held non-residential fellowships at the Institute for Southern Studies (University of South Carolina) and the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute (Harvard University). 

He was the recipient of a student-nominated QUB Teaching Award in 2013, and in 2015 was nominated for “Most Inspiring Teaching Staff” in the QUB Student Union Education Awards.   

Research Interests

In recent years his research interests have shifted to the formative struggles that followed US slave emancipation. From 2006 to 2010 he directed the After Slavery Project, an international research collaboration funded by the AHRC. With project partners Bruce Baker and Susan O’Donovan he designed and built the After Slavery website, recognized by leading scholars as an exceptional resource for educators working in African American and Southern labour history, and has been involved in developing related online teaching resources alongside high school teachers in North and South Carolina. With Bruce Baker he co-edited a collection of essays, After Slavery: Race, Labor and Citizenship in the Reconstruction South, published by the University Press of Florida in 2013, and is completing an extended monograph on grassroots black political mobilisation in Reconstruction South Carolina.

Select Publications


Articles and chapters:

  • “Du Bois’s Prolific ‘Error’ and the Break with ‘Color Blind’ Orthodoxy,” Contribution to ‘Up for Debate’ in Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas Vol. 12, No.4 (Dec. 2015): 11-15
  • “Class, factionalism and the Radical retreat: black laborers and the Republican Party in South Carolina, 1865-1900,” in Bruce E. Baker and Brian Kelly, eds. After slavery: race, labor and citizenship in the Reconstruction South (Gainesville, 2013)

  • "A Slaveholders’ Republic in the Tumult of War,” Reviews in American History 40:4 (Dec. 2012).
  • “No Easy Way Through: Race Leadership and Black Workers at the Nadir,” in Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas 7:3 (Nov. 2010).
  • “Mapping Alternate Routes to Antislavery,” Contribution to ‘Up for Debate’ in Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas 5:4 (Winter 2008).
  • ‘Emancipations and reversals: labor, race and the boundaries of American freedom in the Age of Capital’ in International Labor and Working Class History (Nov. 2008).
  • 'Labor and place: the contours of freedpeoples’ mobilization in Reconstruction South Carolina’ in Journal of Peasant Studies: Special Issue on ‘Rethinking Agrarian History’ (Nov. 2008).
  • ‘Martin Luther King, the Memphis sanitation strike, and the unfinished business of the American civil rights movement’ in International Socialism Journal 118 (Spring 2008).
  • Bernard Mandel. Labor, free and slave: workingmen and the antislavery movement in the United States (Illinois, 2007) Introduction to reprint.  Link to this publication
  • 'Industrial sentinels confront the "rabid faction"': Booker T. Washington, industrial accommodation, and the labor question in the Jim Crow South' in Eric Arnesen (ed.), The black worker: race and labor activism since emancipation (Illinois, 2006). Link to this publication
  • 'Black workers, the Republican Party, and the crisis of Reconstruction in lowcountry South Carolina' in International Review of Social History, 51:3 (2006). Link to this publication
  • 'Materialism and the persistence of race in the Jim Crow South' in Historical Materialism, 12 (2004).
  • 'Beyond the "Talented Tenth"': black workers, black elites, and the limits of accommodation in industrial Birmingham, 1900–1920' in Adam Green and Charles Payne (eds), Time longer than rope: a century of African-American activism, 1850–1950 (New York, 2003). Link to this publication

Publicatons on teaching and learning:

  • "Creating an Online Teaching Resource," Reflections (Belfast: June 2012): 6-7
  • “The After Slavery Website: A New Online Resource for Teaching US Slave Emancipation,” Journal of the Civil War Era 1:4 (Nov. 2011): 581-594. [co-authored with John W. White]

Entry on PURE research portal


Dr Kelly teaches on the American South survey at Level II and on two upper level seminars, After Slavery and The American Civil War & Reconstruction. Willing to supervise any advanced project on topics related to American labour and/or social history.    Dr Kelly teaches on the following modules:


HIS2028: The American South, 1619-1865
HIS2029: The American South, 1865-1980
HIS3082: After Slavery: Race, Labour and Politics in the Post-Emancipation US South
HIS3035: The American Civil War & Reconstruction


HIS7035: Themes in American Historiography
HIS7056: Topics in US History


PhD supervision:

Current first supervisor:

  • Samantha Gowdy, 'Race, gender and Civil Rights: African American women and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People'
  • Conall MacMichael, 'Myth and Memory: Media representations of Black Power'


  • Daniel Brown, 'The Freedmen's Bureau in North Carolina, 1865-72', Ph.D. 2011