Jenifer Barclay


Dr. Jenifer Barclay.

Jenifer Barclay


Jenifer Barclay



African American History; History of Slavery and Emancipation; Medicine, Disability, and Science; 19th century United States History; Gender and Sexuality


  • PhD, Michigan State University, 2011
  • MA, The University of Akron, 2006
  • BA, Slippery Rock University, 2004

Courses Regularly Taught

History 301: Historical Writing

History 335: History of the Old South

History 345: U.S. Disability History

History 376: African American History to 1877

History 379: African American History since 1877

History 502: U.S. Core I

History 550: Graduate Topics Seminar, History of the Education in the U.S.

History 607: Graduate Research Seminar, Research on Race 

Research Interests

African American History; History of Slavery and Emancipation; Medicine, Disability, and Science; 19th century United States History; Gender and Sexuality.  

Current Research

My research places African American history into conversation with the “new” disability history, a field that emphasizes disability as a lived human experience embedded in a set of socially constructed ideas that change over time, across cultures, and in relation to other categories of identity such as race, gender, class and sexuality. This approach is at the heart of my first book, The Mark of Slavery: Disability, Race, and Gender in Antebellum America (University of Illinois Press, 2021). This work centers on the lives of disabled enslaved people and the larger metaphorical, ontological links that antebellum Americans forged between disability, race and gender. I read traditional sources “against the grain” to consider the experiences of enslaved people with physical, sensory and psychological disabilities. I also, however, use disability as a category of historical analysis to shed light on nineteenth century racial projects—specifically the ways that anxious whites linked blackness to the resounding stigma of disability to shore up their own racial identity as the prospect of black freedom and citizenship loomed nearer. This process unfolded through pervasive representations of blackness and disability in the laws of slavery, southern discourses of states’ rights medicine, pro- and antislavery political rhetoric and cultural phenomena such as minstrelsy and freak shows.  

The research I undertook for my first book led me to question the influence of ableism on the preservation and interpretation of the historical record. How is it that, in the words of historian Douglas Baynton, “disability is everywhere in history once you begin looking for it, but conspicuously absent in the histories we write?” Why is disability enveloped in this paradox? What forces and factors create this dynamic? Working with Stefanie Hunt-Kennedy (University of New Brunswick), I am co-editing Cripping the Archive: Disability, History, and Power (expected 2024). This collection of interdisciplinary scholarship examines archival power by uncovering disability in contested archives, challenging how we define “the archive,” exploring the creation of inclusive archives accountable to and centered on people with disabilities and disability justice, and disrupting ableist power structures and dynamics within the archive. At the same time, I am also working on my next monograph, Between Two Worlds: Disability and Segregation in Southern Education from Emancipation to Integration. This project maintains my scholarly focus on the intersections of race, disability, and gender, but pivots toward education in the post-emancipation years. In the wake of the Civil War, the forces of intersectional erasure complicated the lives and educational opportunities of freedpeople with disabilities. Black women played a progressive role in building and sustaining educational programs and spaces for these students that, likewise, has been overlooked in the history of education. The same is also often true of the transnational work of black, Deaf educator Andrew Foster who attended the Alabama School for Colored Deaf, became the first black, deaf graduate of Gallaudet University in 1954, and established over thirty schools for deaf students throughout West Africa. Between Two Worlds will re-center attention on the lives of black students and educators with disabilities and illuminate the development of educational institutions in the South that were doubly segregated by disability and race, the last of which—the Louisiana School for the Blind and Deaf—did not integrate until 1978.


“Mothering the ‘Useless’: Black Motherhood, Disability, and Slavery” reprinted in Stephanie Narrow, Kim Cary Warren, and Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, eds. with Vicki L. Ruiz, Unequal Sisters: A Revolutionary Reader in U.S. Women’s History, 5th Edition (New York: Routledge, 2023).

“Disability and Race in American History: Rhetoric and Reality in the Civil War and Post-Emancipation South” in Frank Rudy Cooper, Micky Lee, and Pat Reeve, eds., Embodied and Socially Constructed?: Dis/ability in Media, Law, and History (New York: Routledge, 2022).

“Disability, Race, and Gender on the Stage in Antebellum America” in Michael Rembis, Catherine Kudlick, and Kim Nielsen, eds., The Oxford Handbook on Disability History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018): 351-368.

“Differently Abled: Africanisms, Disability, and Power in the Age of Transatlantic Slavery” in Jennifer Byrnes and Jennifer Muller, eds. Bioarchaeology of Impairment and Disability: Theoretical, Ethnohistorical, and Methodological Perspectives (New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2017): 77-94.  

“Bad Breeders and Monstrosities: Racializing Childlessness and Congenital Disabilities in Slavery and Freedom,” Slavery & Abolition 38, Iss. 2 (2017): 287-302.

“Mothering the ‘Useless’: Black Motherhood, Disability, and Slavery.” Sandy Magana and Liat Ben Moshe, guest eds., Women, Gender, and Families of Color 2, No. 2 (Fall 2014): 115-140.

“The Greatest Degree of Perfection: Disability and the Construction of Race in American Slave Law” in Rhondda Thomas and Angela Naimou, eds., “Locating African American Literature,” South Carolina Review 46, No. 2 (Spring 2014): 27-43.

“Coming Full Circle: Harriet Jacobs and the Crafts in Civil War and Reconstruction-Era Savannah,” Leslie Harris and Daina Ramey Berry, eds., Slavery and Freedom in Savannah (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2014).


Postdoctoral Fellow in African American Studies, Department of History, Case Western Reserve University, 2011-12

Pre-Doctoral Fellow in African American Studies, Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro-American and African Studies, University of Virginia, 2009-2011

Excellence Award for Externally Funded Graduate Students, Office of the Dean of the Social Sciences, Michigan State University, 2010-11

The Harry Brown Graduate Fellowship in American History, Department of History, Michigan State University, 2009-2010