Dr. Thavolia Glymph’s scholarship and career have been shaped by many factors: reading materials, a mentor in graduate school, her family’s emphasis on education, and a heritage that gives her strength – even as it evinces surprise from some who learn about it.
She started college with the idea that she would major in European History, or in French, which she had studied extensively and in which she is quite fluent. But as an undergraduate she read an article by Harold Woodman on the profitability of slavery.
Woodman was a renowned scholar at Purdue University from 1971 through 1997, where he was the Louis Martin Sears Distinguished Professor of History at the Indiana institution. He is best known as the author of King Cotton and His Retainers: Financing and Marketing the Cotton Crop of the South, 1800-1925, an influential book that analyzed the role of cotton factors in the marketing of the cotton crop in the Old South and the postwar crop lien system and their impact on Southern political and social life.
Glymph was so impressed with the article that she wanted to work with him and enrolled at Purdue University for graduate school. There she earned her PhD in History, with particular emphasis on the economic history of the United States in the 19th century.
Professor Glymph is a scholar who spends much of her time with fellow scholars, students, and the greater public interested in the study of women, gender relations, and systems of labor and power in the 19th century, both before and after emancipation. This is of special interest in light of the recently increased tension over racial issues across the United States—and whether that tension might be leading to a return to darker days in our history.
When asked about the recent racial tension in the U.S., Dr. Glymph’s answer was illuminating, as one would expect from a brilliant teacher. “What I focus on is how systems of power such as the institution of slavery operate and the struggle for emancipation,” said Dr. Glymph. “We have to be very careful about what lessons one should apply, and which ones not to.
While slavery ended in the U.S. 150 years ago, the nation has spent much of the time since battling its legacies, and we continue to struggle against many forms of injustice. Glymph acknowledges that discrimination still exists, and probably always will.