Professor of History

My work focuses on slavery, capitalism, and, increasingly, imperialism in the nineteenth century. My first book, Soul by Soul (1999) used the slave market as a way to think about the fantasies, fears, negotiations, and violence that characterized American slavery. Since then, I have written a series of essays about social and historical theory relating to the history of slavery in the U.S.: on the idea of "agency" as the organizing theme of scholarship; on notions of time; on theories of capitalism and slavery; and on the idea of reparations for slavery as a historical narrative. Most importantly, I have written a history of the Mississippi Valley between the Louisiana Purchase and the Civil War entitled River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Imperialism in the Mississippi Valley (2013).  While retaining a focus on the immediate experience of slavery and mastery, this book also embeds the history of slavery in the U.S. in the histories of global capitalism (especially the cotton trade and the Atlantic money market) and U.S. imperialism (the Louisiana Purchase, the illegal invasions of Cuba and Nicaragua in the 1850s, and the effort to reopen the Atlantic Slave trade on the eve of the Civil War).  I am currently writing a book about the 1841 revolt aboard the slave ship Creole.

Walter Johnson

Position: Winthrop Professor of History and Professor of African and African American Studies

Field: United States

Specialty:Nineteenth-century U.S., slavery, capitalism, imperialism; social and historical theory

Fall 2013:
- History 2442: Readings in the History of the U.S. in the 19th Century: Proseminar
- History 3900: Writing History: Approaches and Practices

Spring 2014:
- Untied States in the World 28: Slavery/Capitalism/Imperialism: The US in the Nineteenth Century

Contact Info

Center for Government and International Studies-South Building

Room S420
1730 Cambridge St.
Cambridge, MA 02138


Office Hours: Tuesdays 1-2:45 pm