Geneva A. Smith

PhD Candidate
Department of History & Department of African American Studies

I work on slavery, race, and the law in the early modern and colonial Atlantic World. My dissertation examines slave courts, or courts that tried exclusively enslaved persons, in North America and the Caribbean during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I argue these segregated judicial structures were a fundamental component in the formation of a “Black” race, fostering legal understanding among both enslavers and Africans as well as the development of capitalist slavery regimes among the British colonies. In so doing, I emphasize the way English common law, legal understanding, and legal practice evolved in a racialized manner, re-situating enslaved persons as crucial to the development of legal institutions during the eighteenth century.

Prior to coming to Princeton, I received my Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University in 2014 where I double-majored in Anthropology and History. My undergraduate thesis examined illicit liaisons between white women and black men as well as the freedom suits of their children in colonial Virginia and Maryland. After graduation, I worked at the New-York Historical Society where I helped produce curricula for New York State students and teachers. I then moved to the curatorial team, where I helped open the new Center for Women’s History in March 2017, as well as drafting my own exhibition on Beauty Culture in 19th and 20th century New York.

Since coming to Princeton, I worked on the Princeton and Slavery project, have been a coordinator for the Colonial Americas Workshop, and participated in the Max-Planck Institute for European Legal History Summer Academy. In October 2018, I was awarded the William Nelson Cromwell Early Career Fellowship. When I am not submerged in the history of colonial North America, I also try and develop my interests in critical race theory, women and gender history, and African American history more broadly.