The Richards Center is excited to share that Brooke Thomas and Nicole Viglini will join us as postdoctoral scholars in the 2023-2024 academic year. Brooke will be the Richards Center/Africana Research Center Postdoctoral Scholar in African American History and Nicole will be the Richards Center Postdoctoral Scholar in the Civil War Era. We are delighted to welcome both of these outstanding scholars to Penn State and the Richards Center, and look forward to seeing them continue their important work.
Brooke Alexis Thomas received her Ph.D. in History from Rutgers University-New Brunswick and specializes in twentieth century African American History, focusing on Black women’s history, African American organizing, and African American formal politics. Her dissertation “To Capture a Vision Fair:” Black Sorority Women and the Shift From Respectability Politics to Public Policy, 1935-1975,” explores the ways in which members of Black colligate sororities strategically pivoted their ideologies and programming, beginning in the 1930s, to build upon legacies of uplift and respectability and move beyond them to a combination that envisioned a greater partnership with the federal government to propel the long Black freedom struggle. This project explores the ways in which Black sorority women began to think more broadly about public policy and the ways the state could further support the needs of African Americans, particularly around issues of employment, economic justice, health, and full political inclusion and representation as a part of a persistent and consistent effort to shape United States politics and policies, make the state accountable to the needs of Black people, and expand the professional opportunities for a new cadre of Black women political leaders. Brooke received her BA in history from Spelman College and her MA in history from the University of South Alabama. Her work has been supported by The Institute for Citizens and Scholars, Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences, and the Mellon Foundation.
Nicole Viglini will receive her PhD in history from University of California, Berkeley, and specializes in nineteenth-century U.S. histories of slavery, capitalism, gender, and legal cultural histories. Nicole’s dissertation, “‘She is a very smart woman and a great trader’: Enslaved and Free Women’s Economic Strategies and Gendered Geographies of Credit in the Nineteenth-Century South,” foregrounds enslaved and free Black women’s skills, knowledge, and survival strategies, and shows how antebellum southern women claimed property and credit to define their belonging within their communities. Her project centers the testimony of propertied Black women who filed claims to compensation before the Southern Claims Commission (SCC), a federal organization created in 1871 to reimburse unionist southerners in seceded states for property confiscated by the U.S. Army during the Civil War. At the Richards Center, Nicole will focus on turning her dissertation into a book manuscript and will begin a digital project to bring visibility to the lives and livelihoods of the Black women who filed SCC claims. Nicole’s work has been supported by several institutions, including the American Historical Association, the Wilson Library at UNC Chapel Hill, and the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South at Tulane University.