John Edwin Mason

Associate Professor; Co-Director, Holsinger Portrait Project

(434) 924-6947
353 Nau
Office Hours: M, 2:00PM-4:00PM; W, 12:0-1:30; and by appointment

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 and co-directs the Holsinger Portrait Project. He has written extensively on early nineteenth-century South Africa history, especially the history of slavery, South African popular culture, including the Cape Town New Year's Carnival and jazz, and the history of photography. He is co-curating the Holsinger Portrait Project's 2022-2023 exhibition, at UVA and the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century portraits of Black Virginians. He is also working on "Gordon Parks and American Democracy," a book about how the Life magazine photo-essays on race and poverty that Parks 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. Mason is 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.

Personal Website 



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

(Click here to see an audio/video preview of One Love, Ghoema Beat: Inside the Cape Town Carnivalwhich brings together my historical and ethnographic research and my photography.)

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

Selected Recent Publications:

"Julia Rendleman's 'Commonwealth' Photographs Say the Past Is the Present." Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism (online), 9 February 2021.

"Gordon Parks." Review essay. The Photo Book Review, 018(Fall 2020).

Julia Munro and John Edwin Mason, "A Charlottesville Portfolio: African American Portraits from the Holsinger Studio Collection." Magazine of Albemarle County History, Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, 76-77(2018-2019), published July 2020.

"Why Does This Legendary Black Photographer's Work Continue to Resonate Today?" National Geographic online edition, 26 June 2020. 

"Democracy of Speed." Photographs and essay by JEM. Bitter Southerner, 6 June 2020.

"Photos Can Show Protests’ Complexity, or They Can Perpetuate Old Lies." National Geographic online edition, 5 June 2020.

"The Sounds They Saw: Kamoinge and Jazz," in Sarah Eckhardt, ed., Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop, (Richmond, VA, and Durham, NC: The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Duke University Press, 2020).

"Do for Self! Art, Commerce, Community, and the Kamoinge Workshop," in Sarah Eckhardt, ed., Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop, (Richmond, VA, and Durham, NC: The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Duke University Press, 2020).

"Seeing Africa in the American Century," in Priya Ramrakha: The Recovered Archive, Erin Haney and Shravan Vidyarthi, eds, (Heidelberg, Germany, and New York: Kehrer Verlag, 2019).

"History, Mine and Ours: Charlottesville’s Blue Ribbon Commission and the Terror Attacks of August 2017," in Summer of Hate: The Legacies of Race and Inequity in Charlottesville, Louis Nelson and Claudrena Harold, eds., (Charlottesville and New York: University of Virginia Press, 2018).

"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).

"'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, 2014).

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

"‘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:

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.

Past Exhibitions:

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.