Justene Hill Edwards

Associate Professor

352 Nau Hall
Office Hours: ON LEAVE

Field & Specialties

African American History
American Slavery
History of American Capitalism


Ph.D., Princeton University, 2015

M.A., Princeton University, 2010

M.A., Florida International University, 2008

B.A., Swarthmore College, 2004



My research explores the intersection of African American history, American economic history, and the history of American slavery.  Specifically, I look at slavery’s influence on the evolution of African American economic life.  My forthcoming book, Savings and Trust: The Rise and Betrayal of the Freedman's Bank, chronicles the rise and fall of the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company.  Savings and Trust emphasizes the importance of the Freedman's Bank and its collapse by connecting the bank's failure to modern issues such as the racial wealth gap.  I am also working on A Short History of Inequality, which will interrogate the ways in which inequality has pervaded and structured American life.  Both books are under contract with W.W. Norton. 

My first book, Unfree Markets: The Slaves' Economy and the Rise of Capitalism in South Carolina (April 2021 on Columbia University Press, in the Columbia Series in the History of U.S. Capitalism), explores the economic lives of enslaved people, not as property or bonded laborers, but as active participants in their local economies.  Unfree Markets provides the fullest account to date of the strategies that enslaved people used to create their own networks of commerce, from the colonial period to the Civil War.  It confronts one of the most enduring questions in African American history and the history of American capitalism: How beneficial was capitalism to African Americans?  Through examining an array of archival records, from slaveholder account books to legislative petitions, Unfree Markets shows that even though enslaved people shaped the increasingly capitalist economy of slavery, economic participation alone could not secure what bondspeople wanted most—their freedom.  The time and energy that enslaved people invested in their own economic enterprises did not bring them out of slavery; instead, it kept them enslaved.  Ultimately, Unfree Markets demonstrates that the vestiges of race-based economic inequality are not in the late-nineteenth or twentieth centuries, but in the period of legal slavery.

During the 2022-23 academic year, my research will be supported by a Carnegie Fellowship, funded through the Carnegie Corporation of New York.  During the 2023-26 academic years, my research will be supported by a Mellon New Directions Fellowship, funded through the Mellon Foundation.  

I was a Consortium Fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and a Quin Morton Teaching Fellow in Princeton University’s Writing Center.  My dissertation, “’Felonious Transactions: The Legal Culture and Business Practices of Slave Economies in South Carolina, 1787-1860,” was a finalist for the C. Vann Woodward Prize from the South Historical Association, a finalist for the SHEAR Dissertation Prize from the Society for Historians on the Early American Republic, and a finalist for the Herman E. Krooss Dissertation Prize from the Business History Conference.  My scholarship has been supported by the Program in American Studies at Princeton University, the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University, the Program in International and Regional Studies at Princeton University, and the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia.  

I currently serve on the Board of Trustees of the Business History Conference and was a Trustee of the Midland School.  I am also on the editorial boards of Enterprise & Society: The International Journal of Business History, The Journal of the Civil War Era, UVA Press. 


Current Research



Awards & Honors

Mellon New Direction Fellowship, Mellon Foundation, 2023-26. 

2022 Carnegie Fellow, Carnegie Corporation of New York. 

Finalist, SHEAR Dissertation Prize, Society for Historians of the Early American Republic.

Finalist, Herman E. Krooss Prize for Best Dissertation in Business History, Business History Conference.

Finalist, C. Vann Woodward Dissertation Prize, Southern Historical Association. 


Courses Taught

HIUS 1501: American Slavery and the Law

HIUS 1501: Inequality in America

HIUS 3651: African American History to 1865

HIUS 2059: American Slavery

HIUS 4501: Capitalism and Slavery