Martha S. Jones

Martha S. Jones (she/her/hers)

Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor, Professor of History, Professor at the SNF Agora Institute

Contact Information

Research Interests: Race and rights in the 19th century U.S. with an emphasis on slavery, law, gender, and visual culture

Education: PhD, Columbia University

I am the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor, Professor of History, and a Professor at the SNF Agora Institute at The Johns Hopkins University. I am a legal and cultural historian whose research explores how Black people have shaped the story of American democracy and today extends to work on memorial landscapes, family memoir. I also direct the Hard Histories at Hopkins Project which, since 2020, has examined the role of slavery and racism at the Johns Hopkins university and hospital.  I am on research leave during the 2023-24 academic year as a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Germany) and will return to campus in fall 2024.

My most recent book, Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All (2020), received the 2021 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History. My 2018 book, Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America (2018), was recognized with awards from the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the American Society for Legal History, and the Baltimore City Historical Society Scholars. I am also author of All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture 1830-1900 (2007) and a coeditor of Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women (2015), together with many articles, reviews, and essays. 

I am a public historian, writing for broader audiences at the New York Times, Washington Post, the AtlanticUSA TodayPublic BooksTalking Points Memo, Politico, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Time and have been an expert consultant for museum, film, and video productions with the Obama Presidential Center, Monument Lab, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and National Museum of African American History and Culture, PBS American Experience, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Netflix, and Arte (France.)  

I hold a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University, a J.D. from the CUNY School of Law, and a B.A. from Hunter College. Prior to my academic career, I was a public interest litigator in New York City, recognized for my work with a Charles H. Revson Fellowship on the Future of the City of New York at Columbia University. 

In 2023, I was appointed by President Joe Biden a member of the Permanent Committee on the Oliver Wendell Holmes Devise at the Library of Congress. I am a past co-president of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, and today serve on the boards and committees for the Library of Congress Kluge Center, the National Women's History Museum, the US Capitol Historical Society, the Johns Hopkins University Press, the CUNY Law School Foundation, the Journal of American Constitutional History, the Journal of African American History, and Slavery & Abolition

I live in Baltimore, Maryland, and Paris, France, with my husband, historian Jean Hébrard. 

Graduate Seminars

AS.100.645 Race, Law, History

AS.100.713 Black Womanhood (with Professor Jessica Marie Johnson)

Undergraduate Courses

AS.100.375 Histories of Women and the Vote

AS.100.389 History of Law and Social Justice

Articles (selected)

“Forgetting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in the United States: How History Troubled Memory in 2008.” Distant Ripples of the British Abolitionist Wave: Africa, Asia, and the Americas, eds. Myriam Cottias and Marie Jeanne Rossignol (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press Tubman Institute Series, 2017.)

“Birthright Citizenship and Reconstruction’s Unfinished Revolution,” Journal of the Civil War Era, in Forum: The Future of Reconstruction Studies, Journal of the Civil War Era 7, no. 1 (March 2017): 10.

First the Streets, Then the Archives,” American Journal of Legal History 56, no. 1 (March 2016): 92-96.

“Marin et citoyen : être noir et libre à bord des navires états-uniens avant la Guerre civile.” Le movement social, 3 (2015): 93-112.

“Histories, Fictions, and Black Womanhood Bodies: Rethinking Race, Gender, and Politics in the Twenty-First Century.” Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women, eds. Mia Bay, Farah Griffin, Martha S. Jones and Barbara D. Savage (University of North Carolina Press, 2015.)

“History and Commemoration: The Emancipation Proclamation at 150.” Journal of the Civil War Era, 3, no. 4 (December 2013): 452-457.

“Emancipation’s Encounters: Seeing the Proclamation Through Soldiers’ Sketchbooks.” Journal of the Civil War Era, 3, no. 4 (December 2013): 533 548.

“Hughes v. Jackson: Race and Rights Beyond Dred Scott.” 91, no. 5 North Carolina Law Review (June 2013): 1757-1783.

“The Case of Jean Baptiste, un Créole de Saint-Domingue: Narrating Slavery, Freedom, and the Haitian Revolution in Baltimore City.” Chapter 5 in The American South and the Atlantic World eds. Brian Ward, Martin Bone, and William A. Link (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013): 104-128.

“Historians’ Forum: The Emancipation Proclamation.” (with Kate Masur, Louis Masur, James Oakes, and Manisha Sinha.) 59, no. 1 Civil War History (March 2013.)

“Time, Space, and Jurisdiction in Atlantic World Slavery: The Volunbrun Household in Gradual Emancipation New York.” Law and History Review 29, no 4 (November 2011): 1031-1060.

“Overthrowing the ‘Monopoly of the Pulpit’: Race and the Rights of Churchwomen in Nineteenth Century America.” No Permanent Waves: Recasting Histories of U.S. Feminism, ed. Nancy Hewitt (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010.)

“Leave of Court: African-American Legal Claims Making In the Era of Dred Scott v. Sandford.” Contested Democracy: Politics, Ideology and Race in American History, eds. Manisha Sinha and Penny Von Eschen (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.)

“Make us a Power”: African-American Methodists Debate the Rights of Women, 1870-1900.” Women and Religion in the African Diaspora, eds. R. Marie Griffith and Barbara D. Savage. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006).

“Perspectives on Teaching Women’s History: Views from the Classroom, the Library, and the Internet,” Journal of Women’s History 16, no. 2 (Fall 2004): 143-176.


“Before Frederick Douglass: William Watkins Speaks for Black Americans on Independence Day. July4, 1831.” Medium. July 4, 2017.

“Are There New Lives for Old Objects at the National Museum of African American History and Culture?” Muster: The Blog of the Journal of the Civil War Era. October 11, 2016.

“Thurgood Marshall and His Hometown Courthouse.” We’re History. July 11, 2016.

“We Are the Intellectuals.” Roundtable: Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women.” African-American Intellectual History Society Blog. June 5, 2015.

“On The Cherokee Rose, Historical Fiction, and Silences in the Archives.” Process: The Blog of the Organization of American Historians. May 26, 2015.

“History, Myth and the Emancipation Proclamation.” Proclaiming Emancipation: The Exhibition Catalogue (Ann Arbor, MI: The William L. Clements Library, 2013.)

“A Bellwether: Phil Lapsansky at the Library Company of Philadelphia.” Phil Lapsansky: Appreciations (Philadelphia, PA: Library Company of Philadelphia, 2012): 84-88.

“Edward Clay’s Life in Philadelphia.” An Americana Sampler: Essays on Selections from the William L. Clements Library, eds. Brian Leigh Dunnigan and J. Kevin Graffagnino (Ann Arbor, MI: The William L. Clements Library, 2011).

“Reflections of an Archive Rat.” (Ann Arbor, MI: The William L. Clements Library, 2009.)

“Reframing the Color Line.” Reframing the Color Line: The Exhibition Catalog (Ann Arbor, MI: The William L. Clements Library, 2009.)

“Learning a Pedagogy of Love: Thomas Merton.” Living Legacies at Columbia, ed, Wm. Theodore de Bary (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.)

“Mining Our Collective Memory: Beyond the Academic-Activist Divide in Black Studies,” Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society. 6, no. 3/4 (October 2004): 71-76.


“What Mark Lilla Gets Wrong About Students.” The Chronicle Review. August 2017.

“The 14th Amendment Solved One Citizenship Crisis, but it Created a New One.” Washington Post. July 2017.

“At the University of Michigan, Confronting Controversy to Move Forward.” Detroit Free Press. April 2017.

“The Future University Community is Now.” Michigan Daily. February 2017.

“Ava DuVernay’s 13th: It’s About Hope, Not History.” Medium. October 2016.

“Don’t Miss Out on What Michelle Obama Actually Said in 2008.” University of North Carolina Press Blog. July 2016.

“Clinton’s Historical Gaffe Has a History. Just Check Her Record.” History News Network. February 2016.

“Choice of Photo Does Disservice to Students’ Achievements, Reputations.” Boston Globe. December 2015.

“The Diversity Summit, Student Protest, and Asking the Hard Questions.” With Amanda Alexander, Matthew Countryman, and Austin McCoy. Michigan Daily. November 2015.

“Julian Bond’s Great-Grandmother a Slave Mistress?” How the New York Times Got it Wrong.” History News Network. August 2015.

The Dreams Deferred in Baltimore’s Mortgage Crises Set the Stage for Unrest.” The Conversation. May 2015.

“Rallying Around Lynch Nomination: Black Women Flex Their Political Muscles.” Huffington Post. April 2015.

“Why We Still Need Black History Month, Even Though #28daysarenotenough.” CNN Living. February 2015.

“Impolite Conversations: Skin-Color.” With John L. Jackson, Jr. Impolite Conversations: The Web Series. December 2014.

“From Michael Stewart to Michael Brown: A Reflection on #FergusonOctober.Huffington Post. November 2014.

“In 1864 Maryland, Confusion Over Emancipation Made Slaves Interpreters of Law.” Huffington Post. August 2014.

“Supreme Court Ruling Upholds America’s Mixed View.” CNN. April 2014.

“When it Comes to Diversity, Who Counts?” Huffington Post. March 2014.

“What’s in a Name? ‘Mixed,’ ‘Biracial,’ ‘Black.’” CNN. February 2014.

“Biracial, and also Black.” CNN. February 2014.

“Understanding Race.” Huffington Post. February 2013.

“Turning Back the Time of Racism.” Huffington Post. February 2013.