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April 21, 2021

University of Kent lecturer awarded prestigious research fellowship

University of KentA US History Lecturer at the University of Kent has been awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship for his new project.

Dr Erik Mathisen has been awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship for ‘Free Labour & Emancipation in the Nineteenth Century Atlantic World’. Describing his exciting new research project, Dr Mathisen says, “’Free Labour & Emancipation in the Nineteenth Century Atlantic World’ examines how ideas about free labour (selling our work for a wage) became wrapped up in struggles over the abolition of African slavery, the emancipation of enslaved peoples, and the chaotic expansion of capitalism in the nineteenth century.”

Dr Mathisen’s research project is focused on the British Caribbean, the United States and Cuba, and is intended to chart the history of how the problems of emancipation exposed the contradictions of free labour, not only in places where slavery dominated, but also in the lives of working people throughout the Atlantic World.

He explains, “I got interested in this project because I wanted to understand the history of the gig economy of the twenty-first century. It occurred to me that the precarity of work in so much of our economy now, as well as the terms of debate about how work is talked about in popular culture, makes a virtue of the freedom and flexibility to work but obscures the coercion that so many face. I was also keen to connect the story of emancipation with the story of working people generally; to see the history of free labour as an opportunity to chart an Atlantic history of working class people.”

The Leverhulme Research Fellowship will enable Dr Mathisen to spend the next year completing his research on the project, write two journal articles, and complete a book proposal for a monograph, which he hopes to publish in a few years time. He says, “Students this year who are taking my Special Subject, ‘The Age of Emancipation’, have also played a huge part in the project. Spending time thinking through their questions each week has helped me enormously to clarify my own ideas. I hope that when it is finished, they will see some of their fingerprints on parts of the book too!”

Find out more about Dr Erik Mathisen and his research.

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Content added on 21st April 2021. 

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