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  • John Ernest
    Professor
    Chair
    Judge Hugh M. Morris Professor
    University of Delaware
    Department of English
    208 Memorial Hall
    Newark, DE 19716
    (302) 831-3351
    Office Hours: Tu, 3:00-4:30pm & by appt

    Biography

    ​John Ernest, Professor and Chair of the Department of English, is the author or editor of ten books and over twenty-five journal articles and book chapters. His recent books include Liberation Historiography: African American Writers and the Challenge of History, 1794-1861 (2004), Chaotic Justice: Rethinking African American Literary History (2009), and A Nation Within a Nation: Organizing African American Communities before the Civil War (2011). Recent editions include Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, Written by Himself (2008), J. McHenry Jones’s Hearts of Gold (co-edited with Eric Gardner, 2010), and William Wells Brown’s My Southern Home; Or, The South and Its People (2011). His current book project is the Oxford Handbook of the African American Slave Narrative. He and Joycelyn K. Moody are general editors of Regenerations: African American Literature and Culture, a series published by West Virginia University Press and devoted to reprinting good editions of undervalued works by early African American writers. 

    Before arriving at the University of Delaware, he was the Eberly Family Distinguished Professor of American Literature at West Virginia University for seven years, and he taught for twelve years at the University of New Hampshire, where he served as Director of Undergraduate Composition, Co-Director of the Discovery Program, and Director of African American Studies. At UNH, he received the Outstanding Assistant Professor Award (1997), the UNH Diversity Support Coalition’s Positive Change Award (1998), the Jean Brierley Award for Excellence in Teaching (2003-2004), and the New Hampshire Excellence in Education Award for Higher Education (2004).

Degrees 

  • Ph.D., English, University of Virginia, 1989
  • M.A., English, University of Virginia, 1984
  • B.A., English, State University of New York at Binghamton, 1978

Research Projects 

Publications 

  • Douglass in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs
    Ernest, John
    Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 2014.

    ​One of the most incredible stories in American history is that of Frederick Douglass, the man who escaped from slavery and rose to become one of the most celebrated and eloquent orators, writers, and public figures in the world. He first committed his story to writing in his 1845 autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Over the course of his life, he would expand on his story considerably, writing two other autobiographies, My Bondage and My Freedom and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, as well as innumerable newspaper articles and editorials and orations.

    As valuable as these writings are in illuminating the man, the story Douglass told in 1845 has become rather too easy to tell, obscuring as much as it reveals. Less a living presence than an inspiring tale, Frederick Douglass remains relatively unknown even to many of those who celebrate his achievements. Douglass in His Own Time offers an introduction to Douglass the man by those who knew him. The bookincludes a broad range of writings, some intended for public viewing and some private correspondence, all of which contend with the force of Douglass’s tremendous power over the written and spoken word, his amazing presence before crowds, his ability to improvise, to entertain, to instruct, to inspire—indeed, to change lives through his eloquent appeals to righteous self-awareness and social justice. In approaching Douglass through the biographical sketches, memoirs, letters, editorials, and other articles about him, readers will encounter the complexity of a life lived on a very public stage, the story of an extraordinary black man in an insistently white world.

     
  • My Southern Home: The South and Its People
    Ernest, John; William Wells Brown
    Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.

    ​The culmination of William Wells Brown's long writing career, My Southern Home is the story of Brown's search for a home in a land of slavery and racism. Brown (1814-84), a prolific and celebrated abolitionist and writer often recognized as the first African American novelist for his Clotel (1853), was born enslaved in Kentucky and escaped to Ohio in 1834.

    In this comprehensive edition, John Ernest acts as a surefooted guide to this seminal work, beginning with a substantial introduction placing Brown's life and work in cultural and historical context. Brown addresses from a post-emancipation vantage point his early experiences and understanding of the world of slavery and describes his travels through many southern states. The text itself is presented in its original form, while Ernest's annotations highlight its layered complexity and document the many instances in which Brown borrows from his own earlier writings and the writings of others to form an underlying dialogue. This edition sheds new light on Brown's literary craft and provides readers with the maps they need to follow Brown on his quest for home in the chaotic social landscape of American southern culture in the final decades of the nineteenth century.

     
  • A Nation Within a Nation: Organizing African-American Communities Before the Civil War
    Ernest, John
    Lanham, MD: Ivan R. Dee, 2011.

    John Ernest offers a comprehensive survey of the broad-ranging and influential African American organizations and networks formed in the North in the late eighteenth century through the end of the Civil War. He examines fraternal organizations, churches, conventions, mutual aid benefit and literary societies, educational organizations, newspapers, and magazines. Ernest argues these organizations demonstrate how African Americans self-definition was not solely determined by slavery as they tried to create organizations in the hope of creating a community.

     
  • Chaotic Justice: Rethinking African American Literary History
    Ernest, John
    Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, 2009.

    What is African American about African American literature? Why identify it as a distinct tradition? John Ernest contends that too often scholars have relied on naïve concepts of race, superficial conceptions of African American history, and the marginalization of important strains of black scholarship. With this book, he creates a new and just retelling of African American literary history that neither ignores nor transcends racial history.

    Ernest revisits the work of nineteenth-century writers and activists such as Henry "Box" Brown, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Wilson, William Wells Brown, and Sojourner Truth, demonstrating that their concepts of justice were far more radical than those imagined by most white sympathizers. He sheds light on the process of reading, publishing, studying, and historicizing this work during the twentieth century. Looking ahead to the future of the field, Ernest offers new principles of justice that grant fragmented histories, partial recoveries, and still-unprinted texts the same value as canonized works. His proposal is both a historically informed critique of the field and an invigorating challenge to present and future scholars.

     
  • Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, Written by Himself, 1st ed.
    Ernest, John
    Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

    It is the most celebrated escape in the history of American slavery. Henry Brown had himself sealed in a three-foot-by-two-foot box and shipped from Richmond, Virginia, to Philadelphia, a twenty-seven-hour journey to freedom. In Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, Written by Himself, Brown not only tells the story of his famed escape, but also recounts his later life as a black man making his way through white American and British culture. Most important, he paints a revealing portrait of the reality of slavery, of the wife and children sold away from him, the home to which he could not return, and his rejection of the slaveholders' religion--painful episodes that fueled his desire for freedom.

    This edition comprises the most complete and faithful representation of Brown's life, fully annotated for the first time. John Ernest also provides an insightful introduction that places Brown's life in its historical setting and illuminates the challenges Brown faced in an often threatening world, both before and after his legendary escape.

     
  • Liberation Historiography: African American Writers and the Challenge of History, 1794-1861
    Ernest, John
    Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

    As the story of the United States was recorded in pages written by white historians, early-nineteenth-century African American writers faced the task of piecing together a counterhistory: an approach to history that would present both the necessity of and the means for the liberation of the oppressed. In Liberation Historiography, John Ernest demonstrates that African Americans created a body of writing in which the spiritual, the historical, and the political are inextricably connected. Their literature serves not only as historical recovery but also as historical intervention.

    Ernest studies various cultural forms including orations, books, pamphlets, autobiographical narratives, and black press articles. He shows how writers such as Martin R. Delany, David Walker, Frederick Douglass, William Wells Brown, and Harriet Jacobs crafted their texts in order to resituate their readers in a newly envisioned community of faith and moral duty. Antebellum African American historical representation, Ernest concludes, was both a reading of source material on black lives and an unreading of white nationalist history through an act of moral imagination.

     
 
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