Department ofHistory

Lucien Holness

Lucien Holness

Assistant Professor of History

215 Weaver Building

University Park, PA 16802


Ph.D., University of Maryland, College Park
M.A. Villanova University
B.S. Slippery Rock University


I am a historian of early American and African American History with interests in slavery, abolition, and emancipation.

Currently, I am working on a book-length study tentatively titled The Making of a Free State: Free Soil, Free Labor, and Black Freedom in the Borderland of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

The Making of a Free State argues that by investigating how African Americans understood free labor and free soil, we can see what a free state meant to them. In some cases, these ideas became the inspiration for how they imagined the post-emancipation North and South and emigration projects within and outside the United States. The creation of a free state was a process that not only occurred in the legislatures of territories, states, and in the nation’s capital, but on the ground in the streets of cities, towns, and villages, courtrooms, various sites of labor, and other places.

Rather than provide a narrative of free soil and free labor that examines the entire North, The Making of a Free State focuses primarily on southwestern Pennsylvania. The region was one of the first territories opened to westward expansion in the aftermath of the Seven Year’s War and where the place of Africans and people of African descent in society remained uncertain. By shifting the center of antislavery politics and discussions about race from Philadelphia to southwestern Pennsylvania, my manuscript illustrates how the region’s unique political geography influenced the outcome of legislative debates over emancipation, complicated antislavery activists’ efforts to bring about abolition in the North. It also explores how African American politics and political culture varied within northern states which shaped the strategies that black activists employed in their struggle for freedom. Finally, this narrative of the free labor ideology situates African Americans’ voices at the center of these discussions, which are confined to the periphery in prominent studies on free labor.

Recent Academic Publications

Lucien Holness, “Black Southwestern Pennsylvanians and the Politics of Free Soil in the Northern Borderlands,” in Fugitive Movements: Commemorating the Demark Vesey Affair and Black Radical Antislavery in the Atlantic World, ed. James O’Neil Spady (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2022), 78-95.

Select Awards and Fellowships

2022 Filson Fellowship, Filson Historical Society, Louisville, Kentucky

2018-2019 Consortium Dissertation Fellow, McNeil Center for Early American Studies, University of Pennsylvania

2018 Jay and Deborah Last Fellowship, American Antiquarian Society

2017 Short Term Fellow Mellon Scholars Program in African American History, The Library Company of Philadelphia

Areas of Specialization

African American and African Diaspora History and Culture

Nineteenth Century U.S.

Recent Courses Taught

HIST130: Introduction to the Civil War Era, 1848 through 1877

HIST/AFAM 210: Freedom’s First Generation: African American Life and Work, from the Civil War to World War II

Areas of Specialization: