Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Emily Clark

Professor - History

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Department Affiliation


My research focuses on the Atlantic world, exploiting the opportunity that Louisiana’s successive French, Spanish and US sovereignties affords to take a transnational and comparative approach that is less easily applied to spaces that remained subject to a single Atlantic empire. I have been especially interested in the intersection of race, religion and gender and have become increasingly engaged in the project of incorporating the history of non-Anglophone North America into the U.S. national narrative.

In my first book, the multiple prize-winning Masterless Mistresses: The New Orleans Ursulines and the Development of a New World Society: 1727-1834 (University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 2007), I trace the extensive impact of a transplanted European religious institution on the development of French and Spanish colonial Louisiana, particularly among enslaved and free African-descended people. The Ursuline mission sowed the seeds of a robust and enduring Afro-Catholic tradition in New Orleans. Conflict between French and Iberian Ursulines after the transfer of sovereignty from France to Spain in the 1760s reveals cleavages within New World Catholicism that had implications for education, social services and the experiences of enslaved and free African-descended people. The Ursulines introduced non-cloistered religious women to Spanish colonial America. When a number of New Orleans Ursulines returned to their native Havana after the Louisiana Purchase, they supplied Cuba with its first teaching nuns.

The deep engagement with archives in France and the U.S. that anchored Masterless Mistresses suggested that the long-standing trope of the city’s hypersexual, Orientalized free women of color was more a product of myth and political exigency than a historically grounded portrait of the women themselves. Conjured first in Saint-Domingue to explain the divided loyalties of white Frenchmen who failed to avert and suppress the Haitian Revolution, the figure of the mixed-race temptress who eschewed marriage and morality to become the transgressive mistress of a white man was transported to Louisiana along with refugees from Haiti. It took up permanent residence on the banks of the Mississippi and became symbolic of the entangled sins of slavery and sexual excess. Imaginatively quarantining the figure of the lascivious free woman of color in New Orleans allowed the rest of the United States to construct itself as morally and racially pure. My archival encounters with free women of color who married and became pillars of colonial and early national Catholicism in the city revealed the stark disjuncture between myth and history that is the subject of my second book, The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic World (University of North Carolina Press, 2013).

With Strange History I embarked on an engagement with the problem of the American historical narrative’s exclusion of the non-Anglophone roots of the nation. The commander of the Spanish colonial free black militia in New Orleans, Noel Carrière, emerged from the historical record as a compelling subject in the course of researching my second book. Born enslaved to an African father, Carrière attained his freedom thanks to the liberalized manumission laws that came to Louisiana with Spanish sovereignty. He later achieved high status as an officer of the Spanish colonial free black militia that fought on the side of the thirteen British mainland colonies in the American Revolution. Carrière was groomed by the first commander of Louisiana’s free black militia, a man who reenacted a fabled act of battlefield daring performed by an 18th-century Senegambian ruler. The commander’s act was baffling to the French soldiers who witnessed it, but communicated clearly and powerfully with the free black troops drawn from Louisiana’s Senegambian majority. Carrière’s richly documented life provides an unparalleled opportunity to write Africa, African-descended soldiers and Louisiana unambiguously into the American origin story. A 2020 completion is anticipated for Noel Carriere’s Liberty: From Slave to Soldier in Colonial New Orleans.

Offshoots of the interests reflected in my monographs inspired an edited translation of writing by French colonial religious women and two collected volumes, Women and Religion in the Atlantic Age, 1550-1900, with Mary Laven (Ashgate 2013) and New Orleans, Louisiana and Saint-Louis, Senegal: Mirror Cities in the Atlantic World, with Ibrahima Thioub and Cécile Vidal (Louisiana State University Press, 2019).

My teaching reflects my commitment to an interdisciplinary and transnational approach to Atlantic history and to the potential of digital humanities. In alternate years I offer a graduate course in Atlantic world historiography that has drawn Ph.D. students from Latin American studies, anthropology, Spanish and Portuguese, French and Francophone studies and architecture, as well as history. Two undergraduate seminars, “New Orleans Free People of Color” and “New Orleans and Senegal” engage students in the transatlantic, transnational and multi-racial history of New Orleans through primary sources, literature, material culture and art and culminate in final projects that are published on curated public history websites.

I am a past president of the Southern Association for Women Historians and have served on committees of the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the Southern Historical Association and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. My public service projects have included the organization of an international symposium commissioned by the city of New Orleans to mark its tricentennial in 2018 and collaboration with Columbia University on a national curriculum built around the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

  • B.A., Newcomb College of Tulane University
  • M.S.W., Tulane University of Social Work
  • Ph.D., Tulane University, History
Academic Experience
  • Professor, Tulane University, 2014- present
  • Associate Professor of History, Tulane University, 2008-2014
  • Assistant Professor of History, Tulane University, 2005-2008
  • Vice President and Adjunct Professor of History & Religious Studies, Lewis and Clark College, 2002-2005
  • Assistant Professor of History, University of Southern Mississippi, 2000-2002

Research & Teaching Specializations: History, Women’s Studies, Religious Studies, Atlantic World, Women in US History, History of Religion

Related Experience
  • Chair, New Orleans Tricentennial Symposium Committee, 2017-2018
  • Vice president for planning and secretary of the College, Lewis and Clark College, 2002-2003
  • Principal, The Pragma Group, 1993-1993
  • Vice President for Public Affairs, Tulane University, 1990-1993
  • Outstanding Faculty Research Award, Tulane University, 2014
  • American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 2010
  • French
  • Spanish
  • Greek
  • Italian
Selected Publications
  • 2019. “Vocation,” in Elizabeth Jacoway, ed., No Straight Path: Becoming Women Historians. Louisiana State University Press.
  • 2017. “Missionary Orders in French Colonial New Orleans,” in New Orleans: The Founding Era, Erin Greenwald, ed. New Orleans: Historic New Orleans Collection.
  • 2017. “Genre et conversion religieuse des esclaves: La Nouvelle-Orléans 1720-1800,” in Les Laïcs dans la mission: Europe et Amériques XVIe-XVIIIe siècles. Edited by Aliocha Maldavsky. Presses Universitaires François-Rabelais: Tours, 183-194.
  • 2013. “The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic World.” University of North Carolina Press.
  • 2013. “When is a Cloister Not a Cloister> Comparing Women and Religion in the colonies of France and Spain.” in Emily Clark and Mary Laven, eds, Women and Religion in the Atlantic Age
  • 2003. “The Feminine Face of Afro-Catholicism in New Orleans, 1727-1852.” With Virginia M. Gould. William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser. 59:2 (April 2002): 409-448

Full CV or Website
Curriculum Vitae
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