Tamika Nunley

Associate Professor and Sandler Family Faculty Fellow


Tamika Nunley is Associate Professor of History with courses and research focused on the history of slavery, African American women's and gender history, the early Republic, and the American Civil War. Her first book, At the Threshold of Liberty: Women, Slavery, and Shifting Identities in Washington, D.C. (University of North Carolina Press, 2021) reveals how African American women—enslaved, fugitive, and free—imagined new identities and lives beyond the oppressive restrictions intended to prevent them from experiencing liberty, self-respect, and power. Consulting nineteenth-century newspapers, government documents, letters, abolitionist records, legislation, and memoirs, Nunley traces how black women navigated social and legal proscriptions to develop their own ideas about liberty as they escaped from slavery, initiated freedom suits, created entrepreneurial economies, pursued education, and participated in political work. In telling these stories, Nunley places black women at the vanguard of the history of Washington D.C., and illuminates how they contributed to the momentous transformations of nineteenth-century America. This book was named the 2021 Letitia Woods Brown Book prize winner for best book in African American women's history, the 2021 Pauli Murray Book prize winner for best book in Black intellectual history and the 2021 Mary Kelley prize winner for best book published in women, gender, or sexuality in the Early American Republic .

Her second book, The Demands of Justice: Enslaved Women, Capital Crime, and Clemency in Early Virginia, 1662-1865 is published with the University of North Carolina Press. This book examines clemency in legal cases that involve enslaved women accused of capital crime in early Virginia. In these legal encounters, we not only see a system that worked to define and affirm a commitment to legal paternalism that upheld the rule of law, but decades of responses made by the countless enslaved women accused of capital offenses. The Demands of Justice examines how these responses constituted the makings of an intellectual history of enslaved women’s articulations of justice. She has published articles and reviews in The Journal of Southern History, The William and Mary Quarterly, The Journal of  Women's History, the Journal of American Legal History and the Journal of the Civil War Era.

In addition to being a lifetime member of the Association of Black Women Historians, she serves on the editorial board of Civil War History, The Journal of Southern History, and the Journal of the Civil War Era. She has served on committees for the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, the Society of Civil War Historians, and the Southern Historical Association. 

Her work has been supported by the Andrew Mellon and Woodrow Wilson foundations as well as the American Association of University Women and the Bright Institute Fellowship. In 2023, the Library of Congress named her the Cary and Ann Maguire Chair in Ethics and American History. 

At Cornell, Nunley directs the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship program and serves as associate chair of the history department. She currently serves as the chair of the American Historical Association program committee for the 2025 annual meeting. 

Research Focus

  • African American
  • Gender
  • Slavery
  • Nineteenth-Century American history
  • Legal History



The Demands of Justice: Enslaved Women, Capital Crime, and Clemency in Early Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, April 2023)

At the Threshold of Liberty: Women, Slavery, and Shifting Identities in Washington, D.C. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, February 2021) 

*Winner of the 2021 Pauli Murray Book Prize

*Winner of the 2021 Letitia Woods Brown Book Prize 

*Winner of the 2021 Mary Kelley Book Prize 

*Honorable Mention, 2021 Darlene Clark Hine Award

*Finalist for the ASALH Book Prize 

*Shortlist for the MAAH Stone Book Award 


“Thrice Condemned: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Practice of Leniency in Antebellum Virginia Courts” Journal of Southern History 87, No. 1 (February 2021)

*Winner of the 2021 Letitia Woods Brown Prize for Best Article 

*Winner of the 2021 Anne Braden Prize for Best Article in Southern Women’s History

“Phillis Wheatley and the Politics of Genius in the Age of Revolution” (forthcoming in Journal of Women’s History 36, no. 1 Spring Issue).

“Race, Freedom, and the Intimate Worlds of Women,” Journal of Women’s History 35, no. 2 (June 2023).

"Slavery and the Political Touchstones of a Young Republic," The William and Mary Quarterly (79) 1

“The New Civil War Revisionism,” with Edward L. Ayers, Gregory Downs, Daniel Crofts, Christopher Phillips, and Matthew E. Stanley, Civil War History 65, No. 4 (December 2019) 

“’I Know What Liberty Is’: Elizabeth Keckly’s Union War” New Perspectives on the Union War eds. Gary Gallagher and Elizabeth Varon in The North’s Civil War Series (New York: Fordham University Press, 2019) 

“By Stealth’ or Dispute: Freedwomen and the Contestation of American Citizenship” in The Civil War and the Transformation of the American Citizenship, ed. Paul Quigley (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2018) 

“Teaching in Climes of Unrest: BLM, Slavery, and the Intellectual Underpinnings of Student Protest at Oberlin” in The Panorama, a digital publication of the Journal of the Early Republic (Aug. 21, 2017)

BOOK REVIEWS                                                                                                                                                                      
Thavolia Glymph, The Women’s Fight: The Civil War’s Battles for Homes, Freedom, and Nation (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020) forthcoming in The English Historical Review (2021)

Loren Schweninger, Appealing for Liberty: Freedom Suits in the South (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018) William and Mary Quarterly 76, no.3 (July 2019).

Tera Hunter, Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2017) in American Journal of Legal History 58, no.1 (Spring 2018).

Amber D. Moulton, The Fight for Interracial Marriage Rights in Antebellum Massachusetts, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015). Journal of the Civil War Era December 2016. 

Jessica Millward, Finding Charity’s Folk: Enslaved and Free Black Women in Maryland. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2015) Civil War Book Review August 2016.

AMST Courses - Spring 2024