Organization of American Historians honors Finley with prestigious dissertation award
Alexandra “Alex” Finley
For her dissertation on women’s roles in the antebellum slave trade, a new faculty member at Mississippi State is receiving the 2018 Lerner-Scott Prize for the best doctoral dissertation on U.S. women’s history.
The Organization of American Historians is recognizing Alexandra “Alex” Finley with the award and a cash prize. Outgoing OAH president Edward L. Ayers and incoming president Earl Lewis conferred her honor during the organization’s annual meeting this month in Sacramento, California.
A native of Belpre, Ohio, Finley joined MSU’s Department of History as an assistant professor last fall.
Referring to herself as a “historian of slavery, race and gender in the 19th-century South,” Finley’s prize-winning dissertation, “Blood Money: Sex, Family, and Finance in the Antebellum Slave Trade,” examines the economic contributions of enslaved and free women’s domestic and reproductive labor from 1820 to 1865.
“Winning this prize is an incredible honor,” Finley said. The award is named for two foundational historians of women and gender: Gerda Lerner and Joan Scott, whom Finley credits with “significantly influencing the way I approach history and the types of questions I ask.”
“I am particularly interested in the experiences of enslaved women and the economic significance of their labor,” Finley said. “I argue that women’s coerced, waged and household work, including sewing, washing, cooking, cleaning and nursing, formed the foundation upon which the rest of the slave trade functioned.”
Alan Marcus, professor and department head, said Finley’s award is recognition for her “cutting-edge scholarship that promises to alter our understanding of the institution of slavery and the roles of enslaved women within it.”
Marcus added, “Her recent contributions to African American, gender and identity history help perpetuate MSU’s longstanding excellence in the historical study of these areas.”
Dean of MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences Rick Travis said having a professor on staff with the “depth and insight of Dr. Finley means our students are exposed to a wider and richer learning environment.”
“Dr. Finley's accomplishments are a source of pride for the university,” Travis said.
Her dissertation is the basis of a current book project which she plans to edit and complete this summer. Finley’s interests in women’s roles in the workforce will then expand into a new research project.
“I plan to continue exploring the importance of domestic labor to capitalist development in the 19th century,” Finley said. “While researching for my dissertation, I found a lot of fascinating information from census records and court cases about women who ran boarding houses, worked as laundresses, served as maids and so on. Not all of their stories could make it into this manuscript, but they are the inspiration and foundation of my second project.”
Finley received her Ph.D. in 2017 and her master’s degree in 2012 from the College of William & Mary. She earned her bachelor’s degree in 2010 from The Ohio State University.
Founded in 1907, the OAH is the world’s largest professional association dedicated to American history scholarship. With more than 7,500 members worldwide, OAH promotes excellence in the scholarship, teaching and presentation of American history, encouraging wide discussion of historical questions and equitable treatment of history practitioners.
MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences includes more than 5,200 students, 300 full-time faculty members, nine doctoral programs and 25 academic majors offered in 14 departments. Complete details about the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of History may be found at www.cas.msstate.edu and www.history.msstate.edu.
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.
Sarah Nicholas | College of Arts & Sciences