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Laura Gillespie - photoLAURA GILLESPIE


I completed a BA (Joint Hons.) in English and History at QUB in 2014, and undertook a Masters in History (American Strand), from which I graduated in 2015. I have a keen interest in American history, particularly nineteenth-century African American history. Between completing my MA and starting the PhD in History, I lived in Boston and worked at the Old State House, where I gained invaluable experience in public history.

My current research is on how the politics of African Americans, particularly freed slaves, developed in contraband camps during the American Civil War. It focuses on the revolution of political activism among African Americans between the crisis of the late antebellum period and the tumultuous upheaval brought on by war. A detailed exploration of the development of "the slaves’ politics" before and during wartime is essential to understanding the transformed national political landscape of the post-emancipation United States, registered most clearly in the anomalous and remarkable mobilization of former slaves during Reconstruction. The contraband camps played an important and unique function in forging this new grassroots politics, drawing together a largely illiterate and geographically diverse slave population to discuss the issues of the day at a moment when their own fate was bound up with the outcome of war. My research will explore how the political activism of freed slaves came to the fore during the war, and will aim to uncover the monumental impact this assertiveness had on the fate of slavery and the future of the United States as a whole.