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Dr Matt Harper Dr Matt Harper

Dr Matt Harper of Mercer U. Awarded Eccles Center Fellowship

Professor of History and Africana Studies will have access to the British Library’s North America-related collections

Published on June 16, 2020

Dr. Matt Harper, Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies in Mercer University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has been awarded a visiting fellowship from the Eccles Center for American Studies at the British Library in London, reports a Mercer U. spokesperson.

Dr. Harper will use the fellowship between April 2021-March 2023 to visit the British Library’s collections related to North America in order to continue his research on black religion before and after Jamaica’s 1831 Baptist War, one of the largest uprisings of enslaved people in the Americas.

The award, available to individuals in the U.S., U.K., Europe, Canada and the greater Caribbean, supports an approximate month’s work in the library, either taken continuously or as a number of smaller trips.

“The Eccles Fellowship acknowledges the significance of Dr. Harper’s research about Jamaica’s Baptist War. The award recognizes that Dr. Harper’s work is ‘new, exciting, challenging, and different.’ His trans-Atlantic approach to his topic illustrates the important connections between the Caribbean, North America, Britain and Africa evident in the late 18th and early 19th centuries,” said Dr. Anita Olson Gustafson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Not only is Dr. Harper a well-respected scholar, he is also an engaging classroom teacher and an outstanding professor.”

When 60,000 enslaved men and women rebelled in Jamaica in 1831, the uprising became known as the Baptist War because enslaved Baptist deacons organized the rebellion within churches. Dr. Harper’s research expands out from the war to investigate both the origins and effects of radical black religion in the Caribbean.

The churches implicated in the revolt were planted by black Baptist preachers from North America who fled to the West Indies with other Loyalists at the end of the American Revolution. Just a decade after the Baptist War, newly emancipated Jamaican Baptists launched another overseas mission to West Africa. They came to Cameroon in 1841 spreading a gospel of racial equality and anti-slavery.

Dr. Harper seeks to tell the stories of these black Baptist missionaries who crisscrossed the Atlantic, presenting challenges to slave societies and white colonial powers as they went.

“The British Library has the largest collection of periodicals and rare books written in or about the British West Indies, so I can’t wait to conduct research there,” said Dr. Harper. “This research will be part of my larger book project on the role of black missionaries in the politics of the 19th-century world.”

Dr. Harper earned his Bachelor of Arts in history from Louisiana Tech University and both his Master of Arts and Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

He joined Mercer’s faculty in 2014 having previously directed the African and African American Studies Program at the University of Central Arkansas and taught at UNC Chapel Hill and Greensboro College.

Dr. Harper’s research interests include African American history, Caribbean history, American religious history, and slavery and freedom in the Atlantic world. He published his first book, “The End of Days: African American Religion and Politics in the Age of Emancipation,” through UNC Press in 2016.

He co-directs Mercer’s annual Building the Beloved Community Symposium, an initiative to bring together communities of faith across racial lines to work for racial justice and reconciliation.

Mercer University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences serves as the academic cornerstone of one of America’s oldest and most distinctive institutions of higher learning. The oldest and largest of Mercer’s 12 schools and colleges, it is a diverse and vibrant community, enrolling more than 1,900 students, dedicated to learning and service through the practice of intellectual curiosity, respectful dialog and responsible citizenry. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers majors in more than 30 areas of study, including more than a dozen pre-professional academic tracks, with classes taught by an outstanding faculty of scholars. In 2015, Mercer was awarded a chapter of The Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s most prestigious academic honor society that recognizes exceptional achievement in the arts and sciences.

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