John Edwin Mason

Associate Professor

(434) 924-6947
353 Nau
Office Hours: Mondays, 10:30AM-12:30PM & 2:00-4:00PM

Field & Specialties

Southern Africa
Modern Africa
History of Photography


B.A. University of Cincinnati 1984
M.A. M. Phil. Yale University 1988, 1989
Ph.D. Yale University 1992


John Edwin Mason teaches African history and the history of photography. He has written extensively on early nineteenth-century South Africa history, especially the history of slavery, South African popular culture, especially the Cape Town New Year's Carnival and jazz, and the history of photography.  He is now working on "Gordon Parks and American Democracy," a book  about the ways in which Parks' Life magazine photo-essays on social justice and the books that he published during the civil rights era challenged Americans' notions of citizenship and, at the same time, made him one of the era's most significant interpreters of the black experience.  He is also a documentary photographer with a long-term interest in exploring race and gender in American motor sports.  Until recently, he was an active musician, performing with the Charlottesville and University Symphony Orchestra, the Lynchburg (Virginia) Symphony Orchestra, and the New Lyric Theatre, among many other groups. He contributes regularly to Ellingtonia, the publication of the Duke Ellington Society.

Personal Website 



"Seeing Resurrection City, Seeing the Poor," introduction, in Jill Freedman, Resurrection City, 1968, (New York: Damiani Books, 2017).

"How a Photographer Illuminated the Plight of the 'Invisible Poor,'" Time/Life online, 26 October 2017.

"An Annual Compendium of Black Photography that Was a Revolutionary Act," review essay, Hyperallergic, 4 August 2017.

"John W. Mosley:  Chronicler of Philadelphia’s 20th-Century Black Life," Hyperallergic, 27 December 2016.

"Gordon Parks and the American Documentary Tradition," C/O Berlin (publication of the C/O Berlin media center), 20 September 2016.

"Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison’s Collaborative Visions of Harlem," Hyperallergic, 19 August 2016.

"Visual Justice:  Gordon Parks' American Photographs," catalog essay, Visual Justice:  The Gordon Parks Photography Collection at Wichita State University, (Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University, 2016).

"Louis Draper:  A Photographer Who Captured the Complexity of Black Life in Lyrical Ways," Hyperallergic, 24 June 2016.

"An Interview with George Hallett," Social Dynamics:  A Journal of African Studies, 40, 1(2014).

"Picturing the Beloved Country:  Margaret Bourke-White, Life Magazine, and South Africa, 1949-1950," Kronos, 38(November, 2012).

One Love, Ghoema Beat: Inside the Cape Town New Year's Carnival, (Cape Town and Charlottesville: Random House Struik and the University of Virginia Press, 2010).

"'Anything but a Novelty': Women, Girls, and Drag Racing," in Mark D. Howell and John D. Miller, eds., American Speed, (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, forthcoming).

"The Making of Mannenberg," Chimurenga , 13, 2008.

"‘Mannenberg': Notes on the Making of an Icon and Anthem," African Studies Quarterly, 9, 3(Fall 2007). (You can read the article by following this link: )

Social Death and Resurrection: Slavery and Emancipation in South Africa, (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2003).

"A Faith for Ourselves: Slavery, Sufism, and Conversion to Islam at the Cape," South African Historical Journal, 46 (2002).

Preview: One Love, Ghoema Beat: Inside the Cape Town Carnival

Click here to see an audio/video preview of my book, One Love, Ghoema Beat: Inside the Cape Town Carnival.

Cape Town Carnival Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Cape Town Carnival FAQ Answers to common questions about the Carnival and its history, based on recent research and on my experiences during the three years that I spent as a member of the Pennsylvania Crooning Minstrels, a Cape Town carnival troupe. (The Cape Town Carnival is also called the Cape Town New Year's Carnival and the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival. The minstrel troupes are known, in Afrikaans, as die Kaapse Klopse.) Click here to read the FAQ.

Cape Town Carnival Photo Gallery

Click here to see a gallery of photographs from my book about the Cape Town Carnival (known also as the Cape Town New Year's Carnival and the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival).

Democracy of Speed: Drag Racing and Diversity

Democracy of Speed: Drag Racing and Diversity is a photo documentary that looks at the ways in which race and gender operate within the racing community at a small drag strip in the American South. Click here to visit the a gallery of photos from the project. Click here to read some of my thoughts on motor sports, including drag racing, and diversity.

Democracy of Speed: Friday Night Drag Racing in a Small Southern Town is a very early version of my documentary project on automobile racing and diversity. Click here to see the photos and read the story.


Senior Project Advisor, Visual Justice: The Gordon Parks Photography Collection at Wichita State University, Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University, 2015-2016.

Organizer, Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument, Fralin Museum of Art, University of Virginia, 2013-14.