Justene Hill Edwards

Assistant Professor

352 Nau Hall
Office Hours: Wednesdays, 11:00am-1:00pm and by appointment

Field & Specialties

African-American History
American Slavery
History of American Capitalism
American Legal History


Ph.D., Princeton University, 2015

M.A., Princeton University, 2010

M.A., Florida International University, 2008

B.A., Swarthmore College, 2004



Justene Hill Edwards is a scholar of African-American history, specializing in the history of slavery in the United States.  She received her doctorate in History from Princeton University in 2015.  She also holds an M.A. in African New World Studies from Florida International University and a B.A. in Spanish from Swarthmore College.  Hill Edwards' first book, Unfree Markets: The Slaves' Economy and the Rise of Capitalism in South Carolina (April 2021 on Columbia University Press, in the Columbia Series in the History of U.S. Capitalism), explores the economic lives of enslaved people, not as property or bonded laborers, but as active participants in their local economies.  Unfree Markets provides the fullest account to date of the strategies that enslaved people used to create their own networks of commerce, from the colonial period to the Civil War.  It confronts one of the most enduring questions in African American history and the history of American capitalism: How beneficial was capitalism to African Americans?  Through examining an array of archival records, from slaveholder account books to legislative petitions, Unfree Markets shows that even though enslaved people shaped the increasingly capitalist economy of slavery, economic participation alone could not secure what bondspeople wanted most—their freedom.  The time and energy that enslaved people invested in their own economic enterprises did not bring them out of slavery; instead, it kept them enslaved.  In the end, enslaved peoples’ embrace of capitalist principles undermined their pursuit of liberty.  Ultimately, Unfree Markets demonstrates that the vestiges of race-based economic inequality are not in the late-nineteenth or twentieth centuries, but in the period of legal slavery.


Hill Edwards was a Consortium Fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and a Quin Morton Teaching Fellow in Princeton University’s Writing Center.  Her dissertation, “’Felonious Transactions: The Legal Culture and Business Practices of Slave Economies in South Carolina, 1787-1860,” was a finalist for the C. Vann Woodward Prize from the South Historical Association, a finalist for the SHEAR Dissertation Prize from the Society for Historians on the Early American Republic, and a finalist for the Herman E. Krooss Dissertation Prize from the Business History Conference.  Her scholarship has been supported by the Program in American Studies at Princeton University, the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University, the Program in International and Regional Studies at Princeton University, and the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia.  She is a Trustee of the Midland School and serves on the Board of Trustees of the Business History Conference.  


Current Research

My scholarship explores the intersection of African American history, the history of American slavery, and the history of American capitalism.  My research and teaching agendas delve into the long history of racial and economic inequality in America, focusing on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.   

My next book project,The Freedman’s Bank: The Challenges of Black Economic Equality in Reconstruction America, interrogates the history of Reconstruction through the swift rise and disastrous fall of the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company, also known as the Freedman’s Savings Bank.  The first book to illuminate the bank’s short history from the perspective of the Black depositors, The Freedman’s Bank considers the relationship between capitalism and freedom for African Americans at its most crucial moment —the end of legal slavery in America. 


Awards & Honors

Finalist, SHEAR Dissertation Prize, Society for Historians of the Early American Republic.

Finalist, Herman E. Krooss Prize for Best Dissertation in Business History, Business History Conference.

Finalist, C. Vann Woodward Dissertation Prize, Southern Historical Association. 


Courses Taught

HIUS 1501: American Slavery and the Law

HIUS 3651: African-American History to 1865

HIUS 2059: American Slavery

HIUS 4501: Capitalism and Slavery