Calvin Schermerhorn is a historian of slavery, capitalism, and African American literature. He is professor and associate director for undergraduate studies in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies. In addition to undergraduate offerings in American and world history, he teaches online and immersion graduate courses, advising honors, masters, and doctoral students in history.
His new book "Unrequited Toil: A History of United States Slavery" (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming) gives a thematic overview of African American slavery from the Revolution to Reconstruction. He is the author of "The Business of Slavery and the Rise of American Capitalism, 1815-1860" which was a finalist for the Harriet Tubman Prize awarded by the Lapidus and Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library and was published by Yale University Press. Previous books include "Money over Mastery, Family over Freedom: Slavery in the Antebellum Upper South" (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011) and Henry Goings, "Rambles of a Runaway from Southern Slavery," co-edited with Mike Plunkett and Edward Gaynor (University of Virginia Press, 2012).
He is actively working on new projects including research on African American inequality tentatively titled "Disinherited, Dispossessed, and Decapitalized: The Limits of Black Wealth in America, 1619-2019." Another is The Slaves We Eat, a 350 year history of slavery in sugar, cotton, and shrimp focusing on the making of global supply chains and how they reveal slavery's continuities. By linking the pedestrian acts of buying a bag of sugar, cotton blouse, or tray of shrimp to the chains that create value while forcing down labor costs, we can see how slavery survived emancipation.
Also underway is "Writing Slavery: Race, Bondage, and Narrative in Nineteenth-Century America" (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, under contract), arguing that literature, including novels, autobiographies, and other stories shaped a narrative of slavery that emerged before the American Civil War. Within that narrative were conflicting scripts. Pro-slavery plantation romancers contributed a portrait of happy slaves in an idylic setting. African-descended Americans disputed that paternalist account, writing vehement denunciations of slavery as a landscape of terror and violence. Anti-slavery novelists drew from both scripts, accepting some of the plantation romance's racism while using its aesthetics to argue that slavery took unfair advantage of African-descended people. That narrative came to life again after the Civil War as Americans argued about what the war meant and whether black Americans deserved anything but freedom. Writing Slavery traces the strands of those narratives through time, from plantation romances of the 1820s to racial realism of the 1890s.
Schermerhorn arrived at ASU in 2008 after earning a doctorate from the University of Virginia. Before that he worked in marketing and family support on an Air Force base. His research has been funded by fellowships and grants from the Smithsonian, Huntington Library, Gilder Lehrman Center, American Philosophical Society, and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, among other organizations.