Kelly Sharp

Exploring Our Differences and Commonalities

Sharp’s research interests center on African American history, cultural and material history of everyday life, labor history, women’s experiences, business history, and food. She likes to find ways people have experienced such different lives from her own around topics that we have in common. “For example,” she says, “most everybody loves dessert, and I eat chocolate ice cream almost every night. What did dessert mean for an enslaved woman in 1750s South Carolina? What does it mean for each of us to have a choice in what we have for dessert, what does it mean for our bodies, our minds, and our psyches? For a free black woman in 1860s Boston? For a soul sister in 1960s Chicago? Our lives are so similar yet so richly different, and I guess I’m intellectually curious enough to pursue the answers.”

Projects in Progress

Sharp is currently finishing her first book on provisioning Charleston, South Carolina, in the first half of the nineteenth century. She explains, “It highlights the roles that enslaved people played in feeding the city, from their labor on regional plantations where they grew the food to selling it in the city’s only marketplace, to the skills with which enslaved women prepared foods for white enslavers and what dishes enslaved people prepared for themselves away from their enslavers’ gaze.”

Sharp is also wrapping up an article on the historical origins of food crops grown in Charleston in the second half of the nineteenth century, which allowed the city to quickly recover from the economic devastation of the Civil War. And, she says, “This summer I’ll be working on a new project: interpreting the lives of enslaved people who lived and worked at the Nathaniel Russell House in Charleston, South Carolina.”

Russell was a wealthy merchant who made most of his money through the slave trade, but little is known about the daily lives and labors of the enslaved people who lived in his household. Sharp will interpret materials recovered in an archaeological study done last summer to help the Historic Charleston Museum more accurately understand its former residents, both black and white, and the ways in which they interacted on a daily basis.

Her Long-Range Goal

Sharp attended a small liberal arts college, Willamette University, for her undergraduate degree. Her classes were very similar to Luther’s, where a professor could chat with several students while sitting around a table. After that experience, she knew that her main goal was to teach at a liberal arts college. “Before coming to Luther, I taught several courses at the University of California, Davis, near Sacramento,” she says. “Like other professors there, I would walk into a room of 200 students, lecture from my PowerPoint slides, and leave. I didn’t know anything about my students, like where were they from? Why were they taking the class? What part of U.S. history interested them? What expertise or lived experiences did they have to contribute to our learning environment?”

She wanted to become an educator because of her fiery passion for history and the opportunity to share that with other people. She says, “I want to get to know students, be part of their lives, and help them grow both academically and in their personal ideologies. So, I applied to teach at liberal arts colleges around the country, and now this Southern California girl lives in northeast Iowa!” While here, Sharp plans to keep up her active scholarship agenda to further the study of African American labor and cultural history both at Luther and beyond.

Helping Students Become Global Citizens

Sharp loves getting to know more students every day, and she’s impressed with the way they’re involved with activities on campus, in the community, and the world. “They’re both globally minded and self-aware—eager to discuss big problems and ethical issues but also interested in developing themselves into well-rounded and self-critical beings. Every day I get to see students make big realizations both in and out of class—connections that reshape how they see the world and themselves in it.”

More than a Professor

“I’m the faculty advisor for the Latines Unides club and the History Department’s honor society, Phi Alpha Theta. I’m also on the Diversity Council and would love to hear from any or all students about how to make Luther a more welcoming and inclusive place.”

—Kelly Sharp


Favorite Things

“My husband and I have a golden retriever dog named Floopy, and we can often be spotted walking her around town. We also enjoy cooking together. Some favorites in our household include banana waffles, grilled pizzas, and tamales. We’ve also planted four vegetable beds of tomatoes, kale, eggplant, squash, beets, and more, so we’re hoping to have a big harvest to share.”

—Kelly Sharp