Dr R.J. Knight

M.A., Ph.D. (University of Reading)

Department of History

Lecturer in American History

Schools Liaison Officer

+44 114 222 2603

Full contact details

Dr R.J. Knight
Department of History
Jessop West
1 Upper Hanover Street
S3 7RA

I completed my PhD in History at the University of Reading, where I also completed my MA and BA, including a semester at the University of Mississippi.

My research focuses on the relationships between enslaved women and female slaveholders, mothering, and the slaveholding household in the American south.

My work has been supported by grants from the British Library Eccles Centre, the British Association for American Studies, the British American Nineteenth Century Historians, and the Royal Historical Society among others.

Before coming to Sheffield I taught at the University of Reading, and most recently, as a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Westminster.

Research interests

My current research project examines mothering under slavery, both as an enslaved, and enslaving, mother. 

I explore the roles of white women in enslaved women’s exploitation as mothers through their extensive interventions into enslaved women’s bearing and raising of children; both on the basis of their own motherhoods and on the basis of enslaved women’s, casual and routinised, from conception long into the life of a child. These wide-ranging interventions reveal much of the economic, social, and emotional dynamics of women’s relationships, reproductive labour, and the slaveholding household. I use the case-study of infant-feeding practice to provide in-depth analysis of the inequalities women faced as mothers and their interrelationships on structural and social levels. Altogether, my work seeks to contribute to a new history of ‘southern motherhood’ that illuminates both enslaved women and children’s lives and the part of white women in the system of slavery. 

This project is based upon my doctoral research, and draws extensively upon interviews with formerly enslaved African Americans and the correspondence and diaries of white female enslavers, among other sources. Articles and presentations associated with this project have explored infant-feeding, medicine, and inequality; childhood under slavery; and maternal labour. 

The project reflects my ongoing interest in the roles white women have taken, and continue to take, in racist social systems. My new project focuses on examining what Hazel V. Carby termed 'the gender-specific mechanisms of racism' in the context of the American south.

I am interested in opportunities for knowledge-exchange and collaboration, and I was a member of the British American Nineteenth Century Historians (BrANCH) committee 2014-2019; worked on the AHRC-funded international 'Mothering Slaves' network in 2015-16; and participated in the Heidelberg Center for American Studies Spring Academy in 2017.


Journal articles

Research group

Slavery Research Hub

Research supervision

I welcome proposals for research projects from students interested in the history of slavery, women, race, the family, and/or children in the American south.

Current Students

Primary supervisor

Second supervisor

All current students

Completed students

Second supervisor

  • Joe Nowland - Domesticating San Francisco: Home, Women, and Womanhood in a Settler Colonial City, 1849 - 1900


Find out more about PhD study in History

Teaching activities


  • HST296 - Becoming America, 1690-1763
  • HST2513 - Trumpism: An American Biography 
  • HST31013 - The Family
  • HST3190/3191 - Slavery in the American South, 1789-1861


  • HST6092 - Women and Slavery in the Antebellum American South