Nancy Bercaw

Nancy Bercaw

Chair and Curator

Doctor of Philosophy, Department of American Civilization, University of Pennsylvania, 1995
Master of Arts, Department of American Civilization, University of Pennsylvania, 1987
Bachelor of Arts, Department of History, Oberlin College, 1982

Role in Museum: 

In 2017, I returned to the National Museum of American History to chair the Division of Political History.  Over the past 30 years, my research, writing, and curating has been centered on how Americans define freedom in deeply personal ways and how they put these beliefs into action.  As a professor at the University of Mississippi, I taught and wrote books about how Americans rooted their freedom close to home and in ways that grow out of their experiences as men, women, black, white, northern, or southern.  I began taking what I learned out into the world by getting engaged in collaborative work with other professors, local communities, teachers, and policy makers through work with UNESCO’s Teaching the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the Global South Working Group, and the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.

My interest in collaboration took me to the Smithsonian where I worked on the exhibition Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963.  The project taught me the power of placing a people’s history on display.  Through objects, first-person voices, and powerful images, we displayed the power of great people’s movements, and how Americans (who were either disenfranchised or enslaved) fundamentally changed our nation, restructured the Constitution, and transformed the nature of citizenship.  In 2013, I joined the National Museum of African American History and Culture where I served as the lead curator of the Slavery and Freedom exhibition.  This work has me thinking more deeply about citizenship and the nature of belonging as well as about museums and the unique role they play in providing public meaning through exhibitions and collecting.

Projects: 


CURRENT PROJECTS

Smithsonian Women’s History 100.  Book project featuring women’s history collections across the Smithsonian.  Core editorial team.  Women’s Initiative Project.

NMAH Smithsonian’s Women’s Initiative exhibition

DACA, the Dreamers, and Expressions of Belonging (supported by the Latino Center)

Re-thinking the National Collection (Collecting, Collections, and Public Memory)

Contemporary Collecting

Slavery, History, and the Exhibition of Catastrophe: Re-thinking Curatorial Practice (essays)

The Anatomy of Freedom: Human Remains and the Reconstruction of Race after the Civil War (book project)

PAST EXHIBITIONS

Slavery and Freedom.” Lead Curator. National Museum of African American History and Culture, September 2016.

Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963.” Co-Curator .The National Museum of American History and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.  December 2012-September 2014.  Traveling exhibition in coordination with American Library Association, The National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Smithsonian Institution. January 2014-present.

CONSULTANT

“A Mere Distinction of Colour.” Montpelier. Advisory Consultant., Fall 2016.

“Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.” Advisory Committee Member, 2015.

COLLABORATIVE PROJECTS

The Global Curatorial Project: Slavery and the Making of the Modern World.  Founding Curator. International Collaboration.  Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History; Culture Brown University’s Center for Slavery and Racial Justice; IFAN and University of Cheikh Anta Diop, Senegal; International Slavery Museum, UK; IZIKO Museums of South Africa; Museum of World Cultures, The Netherlands; The Legacy Project, University College London, UK; and Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium. 2014-2017.

UM Interdisciplinary Working Group on the Global South. April 2005-May 2007.

William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. State and National. 2007 to 2013

UNESCO, “Breaking the Silence: Transatlantic Slave Trade Project.” National and International. 2004-2007.

Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change, National. University of Memphis, 2004-2006.

SELECTED PUBLIC LECTURES

“Locating Slavery: A Placed-Based Curriculum.” Keynote, for “NEXT STEPS: A Place-Based Approach to Teaching Black History in Rhode Island Classrooms” February, 2018.

“Expressions of Freedom,” Salon, Rhodes Island Athenaeum, October 2017.

“Curating Slavery”, Bullock Texas History Museum, February, 2017.

“Slavery in National Museums: Institutional Constraints,” Global Slavery and the Public Humanities, Brown University, December 2016.

Speaker, 195th Anniversary of the Faith Congregational Church, Hartford, Connecticut, November 13, 2015. Part of an outreach effort regarding the loan of the Pennington Pulpit Bible for the Slavery and Freedom exhibition

“Museums, Slavery and Abolition” Historians Against Slavery, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, September 25, 2015.

 “The Slavery and Freedom Gallery at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.”  Slate Academy: The History of Slavery.  September 17, 2015.

“Slavery Legacies and the Work of State, Public, and Popular Histories.” Panel.  Global Slavery and the Exhibitionary Impulse.  Research Center for Material Culture and Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal Land en Volkenkunde, University of Leiden, June 11-12, 2015.

“Changing America: African Americans and the Expansion of American Freedoms” Keynote.  Emancipation 2015.  African American Museum of Philadelphia, April 26, 2015.

“Moving History:  Representing Slavery in Museums,” Slavery and the University, University of Mississippi, April 13, 2015

“Representing Slavery” Equal Justice Initiative, Montgomery, AL, February 2014.

“Reconstructing Rights.” Can Women from the Past Help Us with Our Problems Today? A Conversation about History and Public Policy. Program on History, Public Policy, and Social Change, Sanford Institute of Public Policy, Duke University, April 17, 2009.

"Thinking About Pay Equity," presented to the American Association of University Women, Oxford Branch, Feb. 6, 2007.

“Teaching Slavery: A Hand's On Approach to Local Resources,”  McComb Legacies: Reclaiming Our Past for a Brighter Future A Civil Rights Education Summit Honoring C.C. Bryant,  June 21-23, 2006.

CONFERENCES ORGANIZED

Going Global: The U.S. South and the World  University of Mississippi, 2007.  International Symposium.  Progam: Dr. Arif Dirlik (Duke University); James Peacock (University of North Carolina; Matthew Guterl (Brown University); Nancy Raquel Mirabal (San Francisco State University); Michael Gomez (New York University).

“I AM Somebody”: Learning from African American Women from the Mississippi Delta, Center for the Study of Southern Culture, April 2006. National Symposium.  Program: Sarah White (UFCW organizer and leader in Delta Pride Catfish Factory Strike, 1996); Laurie B. Green (Labor Historian, University of Texas); Calvin White (African American Historian, University of Arkansas).

 Silences Broken: New Directions in African American Gender History, with Angela Hornsby, Chancellor’s Symposium, University of Mississippi, 2005.  National Symposium. Program: Elsa Barkley Brown (University of Maryland); Chana Kai Lee (University of Georgia); Cheryl Hicks (University of North Carolina-Charlotte); Michele Mitchell (New York University); Bobby Donaldson (University of South Carolina); Heather Ann Williams (University of North Carolina).

Gender and the Southern Body Politic, Chancellor’s Symposium, University of Mississippi, 1997.  Jacqueline Hall (University of North Carolina); Kathleen Brown (University of Pennsylvania); Winthrop Jordan (University of Mississippi); Chana Kai Lee (University of Georgia); Bryant Simon (Temple University); Stephanie McCurry (Northwestern University); Nancy MacLean (Northwestern University); Louise Newman (University of Florida); Laura Edwards (Duke University).

SELECTED PRESENTATIONS:

“Slavery Legacies and the Work of State, Public, and Popular Histories.” Panel.  Global Slavery and the Exhibitionary Impulse.  Research Center for Material Culture and Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal Land en Volkenkunde, University of Leiden, June 11-12, 2015.

“Human Remains and the Measure of Freedom: Military Medicine and the Reconstruction of Race in the
Post-Emancipation United States” American Historical Society’s 126th Annual Meeting, Chicago, January 6, 2012

“The Anatomy of Freedom: Constructing a National Archive of American Indian and African American Bodies,” Southern Historical Association, Baltimore, October 28, 2011.

“Talking About the Global South: A Case Study in Interdisciplinarity at the University of Mississippi,” Southern American Studies Association, “Peoples, Publics, & Places of the Souths,” February 18, 2011.

“American Indian Skulls and African American Organs and the Reconstruction of “Race” after the Civil War.”  George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center, Fall 2009 Lecture Series, December 4, 2009.

“Reconstructing Rights.” Can Women from the Past Help Us with Our Problems Today? A Conversation about History and Public Policy. Program on History, Public Policy, and Social Change, Sanford Institute of Public Policy, Duke University, April 17, 2009.

“Science and Citizenship: Emancipation and the Biomedical Reconstruction of Race," Making Race, Making Health, University of Texas, September, 2008.

Awards, Honors, and Special Recognition: 
  • Senior Fellowship, Smithsonian Institution, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 2008
  • National Endowment for the Humanities, Huntington Library, 2007-08
  • Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, Center for Research on Women, 2000-01
  • Smithsonian Institution Pre-Doctoral Fellow, National Museum of American History, 1991-93
  • Mellon Foundation, 1990-91
Professional Affiliations: 
  • Executive Board, Southern Historical Association, 2016-2019
  • American Studies Association
  • Organization of American Historians
  • American Historical Association
  • Board of Editors, Journal of the Civil War Era, 2011 to 2015
  • William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. 2007 to 2014
  • UNESCO, “Breaking the Silence: Transatlantic Slave Trade Project.” 2004-2007
  • Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change, University of Memphis, 2004-2006
  • Chair, Commission on the Status of Women, University of Mississippi, 2006-08

Publications

“Reconstruction in Public History and Memory at the Sesquicentennial: A Roundtable Discussion.” Journal of the Civil War Era, 2017.
“Slavery and Capitalism” and “Women and Enslavement.” In To Dream the World Anew, Smithsonian Books, 2016.
The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Volume 13: Gender. Edited with Ted Ownby. University of North Carolina Press, 2009.
Gendered Freedoms: Race, Rights, and the Politics of Household in the Civil War Delta. Series on Southern Dissent, University Press of Florida, 2003.
Gender and the Southern Body Politic. University Press of Mississippi, 2000.
“Solid Object/Mutable Meaning: Fancywork and the Construction of Bourgeois Culture.” Winterthur Portfolio, 26, no. 4 (Winter, 1991): 231-47.