Justene Hill Edwards is an historian of African American history at the University of Virginia.

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Justene Hill Edwards, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia.  A scholar of African-American history, Hill Edwards specializes in the history of slavery and the history of capitalism in the United States.  She holds a PhD in History from Princeton University, an MA in African New World studies from Florida International University, and a BA in Spanish from Swarthmore College.  Hill Edwards' first book is Unfree Markets: The Slaves' Economy and the Rise of Capitalism in South Carolina (forthcoming, April 2021 on Columbia University Press, in the Columbia Series in the History of U.S. Capitalism).  

She 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 serves as a member of the Rotunda Advisory Board with the University of Virginia Press.  She is also a member of the Board of Trustees of Midland School. 



My first book, Unfree Markets: The Slaves' Economy and the Rise of Capitalism in South Carolina (forthcoming, April 2021 on Columbia University Press, in the Columbia Series in the History of U.S. Capitalism) is an innovative work that explores an overlooked aspect of the rise of American capitalism: slaves’ personal economic activities, or the slaves’ economy.  The first book to center the slaves’ economy in the rapid growth of capitalist enterprise in the slaveholding American South, Unfree Markets reveals the detrimental influence of capitalist innovation on enslaved peoples’ economic pursuits in South Carolina, the most pro-slavery state in America on the eve of the Civil War.  Using a variety of archival records, Unfree Markets argues that though enslaved people acquired a few material goods and a degree of purchasing power from their own economic activities, the slaves’ economy ultimately supported South Carolina’s slaveholder who profited from their investments in slavery. In the end, it shows that for South Carolina’s slaveholding elite, investments in capitalist enterprise equaled freedom. But for enslaved people, capitalism did not equal freedom. Instead, it meant a continuation of the violent and exploitative regime that shaped their lives. In Unfree Markets, I show that the vestiges of race-based economic inequality are not in the late-nineteenth or twentieth centuries, but in the period of legal slavery.


I explore the experiences of people of African descent in the United States.

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Image by British Library


Understanding the history of slavery in the United States.


I study how capitalism emerged and how it shapes the daily lives of people in the United States.

Image by Sharon McCutcheon


Nau Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA


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