Saidiya Hartman is a Professor at Columbia University and scholar of African American literature and cultural history whose works explore the afterlife of slavery in modern American society and bear witness to lives, traumas, and fleeting moments of beauty that historical archives have omitted or obscured.
Her first book, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (1997), traces continuities between pre- and post-emancipation eras in the United States by demonstrating how even advocacy-oriented abolitionist rhetoric reproduced the violence and domination of the state of enslavement. Her second book, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (2007), combines elements of historiography and memoir in a meditation on her travels to Ghana in search of a deeper understanding of the experience of enslavement.
Hartman’s most recent book, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (2019), is similarly inventive in its mode of presentation and immerses readers in the interior lives of young black women who fled the South and moved to Northern cities in the early twentieth century. While drawing from sociological surveys, tenement photographs, reformatory case files, and other sources, she critiques the pathologizing portrayals these official documents present and recovers stories of resistance enacted by famous women (such as Ida B. Wells) and numerous anonymous others who looked outside the bounds of the law to find kinship, intimacy, and freedom.