Obituaries

The Journal of Southern History, November 2014 | Go to article overview

Obituaries


Stephanie M. H. Camp died of cancer on April 2, 2014. She was the Donald W. Logan Family Endowed Chair in American History at the University of Washington, where she had taught for over a dozen years. She also taught at Rice University and Vassar College. She published numerous scholarly articles but was best known for her pathbreaking book Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South (Chapel Hill, 2004). This work drew widespread acclaim for its theoretical innovation, archival depth, and deeply humane evocation of the lives of its subjects. Closer to Freedom won the 2005 Lillian W. Smith Prize for New Voices in Non-Fiction and became an instant classic for its ability to suggest new ways to understand the lives of enslaved African Americans, especially women. She was also the coeditor of New Studies in the History of American Slavery (Athens, Ga., 2006).

Closer to Freedom inspired a new generation of scholars of enslaved people's history. It built on lengthy research in manuscript collections and with the Works Progress Administration's ex-slave interviews. This research began during her studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where she received a B.A. in 1990; continued in the African American Studies Program at Yale University, where she earned an M.A. in 1992; and again at Penn, where she earned her Ph.D. in 1998 for a dissertation advised by Drew Gilpin Faust. The book also drew on Stephanie's own experiences as an African American woman with roots in both her father's United States and in her mother's France.

At the time of her death, Stephanie was at work on a new book, which was to be titled Black Is Beautiful: An American History, which she described as "a history of black and white American ideas regarding the physical beauty of black people." This work promised to transform historical perspectives on race by demonstrating that racial aesthetics--namely, the question of the beauty of people of African descent--were not by-products that expressed ideas about race, but one of the key cultural sites where such ideas were constantly being shaped, debated, and reshaped. Large sections of this work had been completed, and it is hoped that they will be published in some form.

But as galvanizing as Stephanie's written work was, it is doubtful that any author's written words could be as inspirational to friends, family, colleagues, and students as she was in their lives. Three forces drove her: justice, love, and hope. She unfailingly took moral stands on the side of the outcast, the mistreated, and the maligned. She took those stands whether doing so was popular or not, though her stance was always tempered by her unfailing humor and inability to take herself too seriously. Though she was not afraid to tell her friends the things that they needed to hear, she always believed in their ability to transcend misfortune and develop their gifts. The counsel she offered to friends, colleagues, and students was profound, never anodyne. Above all, she enjoyed her friends' company, welcoming them in to her home and her world: cooking and eating with them, reading their work and sharing hers, fearlessly visiting new places and trying new things with them.

Stephanie's deep commitment to her family, especially to her son, Luc Ade Mariani, was also inspiring. She is survived by Luc and his father, Marc Mariani, of Seattle, and by her parents Donald Eugene Camp and Marie Josephe (Dumont) Camp, her sister Dorothea Rae Camp, and her two nephews, all of Philadelphia. Born on March 27, 1968, Stephanie grew up in West Philadelphia and attended Girls' High in Philadelphia. She was always, as Barbara Savage (University of Pennsylvania) stated memorably at a memorial service held by her parents at the Philadelphia area Baha'i Center off City Avenue, "a Philly Girl." And as her close friend and colleague Lynn Thomas of the University of Washington reminded us at a Seattle memorial service, Stephanie--though a historian--was above all focused on the future of all humanity. …

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