Department ofHistory

Abena Boakyewa-Ansah

Abena Boakyewa-Ansah

Assistant Research Professor of History
Associate Director of the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center

118A Pond Lab

University Park, PA 16802

Curriculum Vitae:


PhD., Vanderbilt University, May 2022
Scottish MAhons., University of Edinburgh, 2015


Dr. Abena Boakyewa-Ansah is a historian of US history with a specialized interest in Black women’s worlds, lives, and ideas of freedom in the Civil War era. A first-generation Afro-Caribbean and Black British scholar, she began her work at the University of Edinburgh, studying with Civil War historian David Silkenat. Her undergraduate thesis became her first publication in 2017, “Crafted ‘By Their Own Hands:’ The African American Religious Experience in Union-Occupied North Carolina, 1862-1865,” in The North Carolina Historical Review. Abena then attended Vanderbilt University, where she completed her doctorate in history as the last student of Professor Richard Blackett in 2022. Her first manuscript, “Freedom Was Their North Star: Formerly Enslaved Women’s Efforts to Secure and Define Freedom During the American Civil War,” places enslaved women at the forefront of the battle for Black freedom, seeking to recast them as freedom makers rather than passive recipients of freedom. Specializing in Civil War history, Abena developed her research interests in African-American religious history, Black women’s intellectual landscape and feminist ideas, and innovative research methods for diving deeper into the interiority of the enslaved.

Dr. Boakyewa-Ansah is passionate about bridging the gap between academia and the public and so has co-hosted a podcast and community learning groups related to Black women’s Christian history in the US context. Additionally, she developed a curriculum for Metro Nashville K-12 schools on the diverse history of Tennessee, and is a consultant for upcoming African American history and Ethnic Studies AP textbooks. As a research scholar who is also passionate about pedagogy, Dr. Boakyewa-Ansah is currently a Nielsen Early Career Workshop Fellow, has completed a teaching fellowship at Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching, and an intensive summer teaching residency with the National Humanities Center in 2021.


“Crafted ‘By Their Own Hands’: African American Religious Experience in Union Occupied North Carolina,
1862-1865,” North Carolina Historical Review, Vol.94, July 2017. p. 299-332.

Awards and Fellowships

Neilsen Public Liberal Arts Teaching Fellow, Nielsen Center, Eckerd College, 2023

J. Léon Helguera Endowed Fellow, Vanderbilt University, 2021-2022

Summer Residency in Meaningful Pedagogy, National Humanities Center, 2021

Graduate Teaching Fellow, Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University, 2020-2021

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow, Library Company Philadelphia, 2019-2020

Dissertation Fellow, Wilson Library, University North Carolina Chapel Hill, 2019-2020

Ruth R. Miller Fellowship, Massachusetts Historical Society, 2019-2020

Certificate in Humanities Teaching and Learning, Vanderbilt Center for Teaching, 2019

Distinguished Student Award, Vanderbilt Black Cultural Center, 2018

Harold Sterling Vanderbilt Scholarship, Vanderbilt University, 2016

Compton Prize for American History, University of Edinburgh, 2015