Profile profile for ruffinsf

Fath Davis Ruffins


A.B.D., History of American Civilization, Harvard University, 1979

A.B., American History and Literature, Radcliffe College, 1976

Research Specialties: 
  • African American history and culture
  • Ethnicity and commercial imagery
  • 20th-century urban history

Current Projects:

  • Writing a book on African American collections and museums nationwide. Working title: Finding our Story in the History of the Nation for Smithsonian Press.

Past Projects:

Recent selected exhibitions:

  • Ralph J. Bunche, NMAH, 2004
  • Guest Curator: From Slavery to Freedom, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 2004
  • Co-curator: A Collector's Vision of Puerto Rico, NMAH, 1998
  • Curator: 1848: New Border, New Nation, NMAH, 1998
  • Guest curator: From Victory to Freedom, National Afro-American Museum in Wilberforce, Ohio, 1988
Awards, Honors, and Special Recognition: 
  • Gave the Frederic Miller Memorial Lecture on Public History, Philadelphia 2003
  • American Studies Association: elected National Council Member 2000-2003
  • Award for Contribution to Scholarship from the Society of Women and Historic Preservation, 2000
  • Twentieth Anniversary Aware from the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, 1997
  • "Historian: Keeper of the Culture," awarded by the American Women's Heritage Society, 1997
Professional Affiliations: 

American Studies Assocation, Organization of American Historians, Association of African American Museums, American Association of Museums


"Revisiting the Old Plantation: Reparations, Reconciliation, and Museumizing American Slavery.” Museums Frictions ed. by Ivan Karp and Corrine Kratz. In press.

Comments on emerging museums of slavery and their efforts to put that history on exhibition.

"Four African American Women on the National Landscape" in Restoring Women's History through Historic Preservation. Gail Dubrow, ed. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

Analyzes the preservation history of four African American women: Harriet Tubman, Mary McLeod Bethune, Maggie Walker, and Madame C. J. Walker.

“Sites of Memory, Sites of Struggle: The ‘Materials’ of History” in Major Problems in African American History. Volume 1: From Slavery to Freedom, 1619–1865 . Thomas Holt and Elsa Barkley Brown eds. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.

Brief analysis of issues involved in earlier attempts to put an African American museum on the mall.

"Reflecting on Ethnic Imagery in the Landscape of Commerce 1945–1975" in Getting and Spending: American and European Consumption in the Twentieth Century. Charles McGovern, Susan Strasser, and Matthias Judt, eds. Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Analysis of the images of ethnicity in American advertising,both television and print, between World War II and the Vietnam War.

"Culture Wars Won and Lost: Ethnic Museums on the Mall," in Radical History Review. Two-part article. No. 68, Spring, 1997 and No. 70 Winter, 1998. (Part One: The Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian. Part Two: The African American Museum on the Mall Project.)

Comparison of the work in the 1980s and 1990s to found the National Museum of the American Indian, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and the earlier unsuccessful attempt to pass legislation to put an African American Museum on the Mall.

"Recovering Yesterday." Co-author with Paul Ruffins. Black Issues in Higher Education. Vol. 13, No.25 February 2, 1997.

Brief history of Black efforts to preserve African American history in collections.

"The Politics of Cultural Ownership." AIGA Journal of Graphic Design. Vol. 14, No. 1. January, 1996. (American Institute of Graphic Arts.)

Brief analysis of the struggles over control of ethnic images in 20th century U.S.A.

"Lifting As We Climb': Black Women and the Preservation of African American History and Culture." Gender and History. Vol. 6, No. 3. November, 1994.

Analysis of the special role that Black women have played in the preservation of African American history.

"Mythos, Memory, and History: African American Preservation Efforts, 1820-1990." Museums and Communities: The Politics of Public Culture. Ivan Karp, Christine Mullen Kreamer, and Steven D. Lavine, eds. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.

Detailed analysis of the preservation of objects, folklore, music, governmental records over the 19th and 20th centuries.

"A Faithful Witness': Afro-American Public History in Historical Perspective," with Jeffrey Stewart. Presenting the Past: Critical Perspectives on History and the Public. Susan Porter Benson, Stephen Brier, and Roy Rosenzweig, eds. Temple University Press, 1986.

Detailed analysis of the relationship between professional historians and "organic historians" of the African American experience.