Shaun Wallace


  Division: History & Politics


  Telephone: 01786 467577

  Twitter: @Shaun Wallace

Title of research topic

Black Literacy and Slave Rebelliousness in the United States South, c.1790-1810.


Dr Colin Nicolson

Dr Emma Hart (University of St Andrews)

Dr Ben Marsh (external consultant-University of Kent)


I began my studies at the University of Stirling in 2007, completing a BA (Hons) in History before undertaking an MRes in Historical Research. My early research, influenced by the reading of former slave narratives including Frederick Douglass’s 1845 work, began to explore reading and writing ability among blacks in the United States South. This had hitherto attracted little scholarly analysis. Developing a theoretical understanding of black literateness and its relationship with concepts including empowerment and acculturation, it became apparent that scholarly analysis of slave literacy too often quantified reading and writing as skills that slaves did or did not have without any qualitative understanding of why reading and writing instruction was commonly sought by slaves but overwhelmingly denied by slave-masters. During the course of the MRes it became apparent while examining newspaper advertisements for slave runaways that literacy was not only a contested skill between master and slave but influenced slave decision-making, particularly the decision to run away.

My PhD research project, addressing this historiographical lacunae, bridges the gap between the theoretical understanding of literacy and the social realities of slave action. The project harvests and logs, in a self-created database, several decades of fugitive slave notices that were published in local newspapers and expands a research methodology established during the course of my MRes. Supported by archival research in the United Kingdom and the United States South, this allows for tabulation and extensive quantitative analysis and comparison of datasets, with a particular focus devoted to establishing evidence of literacy, reasons for absconding, wording and descriptive patterns, and slave-owner phrasing. My research has also moved into other areas of scholarship including print culture, digital humanities, and social network analysis. This research methodology, refined during the course of the PhD project, will form the basis of my post-doctoral research project. 

Research Interests

My research interests include slave fugitivity and rebelliousness, race, citizenship, and education.  I am also interested in print culture, particularly, newspapers and slave runaway advertisements.  I am also interested in data and social network analysis such as prosopography. 

Academic Profiles


Funding for research 

I have been awarded the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) + 3 studentship and was awarded an ESRC Overseas Fieldwork Research Grant (in excess of £4,500) which was used to undertake an eight week archival research visit to the United States.  I have been short-listed for a Fulbright Scholarship Award and have been successful in achieving impact funding from the University of Stirling.

Organisational Positions

I hold the role of president of the Historical Perspectives history society, having previously held a joint role of seminar convenor and social media and technology co-ordinator.  I am a co-founder of the University of Stirling Postgraduate Historical Research Group.


I currently teach HISU921:  The Making of Modern Britain, 1707 to 2000:  An Introduction at the University of Stirling. I have been a teaching assistant for this course since the 2015 autumn semester.


‘Runaway Reading’: How Did Literacy Encourage Slave Rebelliousness after the American War of Independence? History Today Magazine, (September 2015), pp. 4-5. (Article)

The Maroons of Prospect Bluff and their Quest for Freedom in the Atlantic World, Journal of American Studies, 49:1 (2015) (Book review)

Fugitive Slaves and the Unfinished American Revolution:  Eight Cases, 1848-1856, Journal of African American History,Gendering the Carceral State: African American Women, History, and the Criminal Justice System, Special Edition. Volume 100: No., 3 (Summer 2015) (Book Review)


"Endeavoring to Pass as Free": Black Literacy and Rebelliousness in the American South c.1790-1820. (University of Stirling Postgraduate Symposium.  May 2014)

Runaway Slaves and the Significance of Literacy.  The American South, c.1800. (Eighteenth Century Reading Group.  University of Stirling. October 2014)

 "Endeavouring to Pass as a Free Man":  Black Literacy and Slave Rebelliousness in the US South c.1790-1810. (BAAS Postgraduate Conference.  'Protest:  Resistance and Dissent in America.' November 2014, University of Sussex)

 Escaping Slavery in the American South, 1776-1840. (Dollar Historical Society, January 2015 with Dr Ben Marsh)

 What He Most Dreaded, I Most Desired': The Fugitive Slaves of the US South, 1790-1810.  (BAAS 2015 Conference. 'Looking Backwards, Looking Forwards.' April 2015. University of Northumbria)

 'The Myth of Drapetomania and the Realities of Slave Fugitivity': The Slave Runaways of the US South during the Early Republic Period. (Université Paul-Valéry, Montpellier)


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