Luther College professor awarded Bradford Dissertation Prize

A look into Kelly Sharp's research on how enslaved people influenced American culture

Kelly Sharp, Luther College assistant professor of Africana studies and history, was awarded the Melvin E. Bradford Dissertation Prize at the annual meeting of the St. George Tucker Society.

The Bradford Dissertation Prize is an annual competition that recognizes the best dissertation written on any aspect of the American South. Sharp's dissertation centers on black labor, material culture and foodways in the early 19th century US South. Her manuscript, based on her award-winning research, is currently under contract with Cambridge University Press and will come out in early 2021.

"This award makes me feel very honored," said Sharp. "It was a wonderful opportunity to share my work with a wider audience as well as receive their feedback for ways in which I can expand my work as I translate it into my first book."

When choosing a topic of research, Sharp says she was curious how people in urban American cities acquired food in the days before factories, farming, refrigeration, supermarkets and supercenters.

"Choosing this topic also allowed me to contribute to the growing body of scholarship about the role of enslaved people in an urban setting such as Charleston, South Carolina," said Sharp.

Sharp is currently revising her dissertation into a book called "Provisioning Charleston: Food, Race, and Labor in the Antebellum Lowcountry." When people read her book, she wants them to "appreciate the role of enslaved people beyond building the economy of the US South and America at large, but also their influence in shaping American culture."

For example, Sharp explains that traditional Southern dishes are derived from distinct African American-origin but claim to belong to a fictitious "post-racial America." Sharp's work "corrects the historical record and seeks to give credit where credit is due."

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