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Spotlight: A Conversation with Dr. Michell Chresfield

Updated: Feb 15, 2019

I had the privilege of having the brilliant Dr. Michell Chresfield, an African-American historian, as my Social and Political History lecturer for one semester. Dr. Chresfield joined the University of Birmingham in 2017 from being a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh – a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania state, US.

With research that “examines how Americans of Native, Black, and White descent have used social science, medicine, and the law to negotiate multiracial identities during the regime of Jim Crow,” Dr Chresfield lectures in both American History from 1890 – 2000, and Gender and Sexuality at the University of Birmingham but has a resume that proceeds her. Not only did she attend two top 20 National universities in the United States (Vanderbilt University & University of Notre Dame), she contributed to the online History textbook, American Yawp, on “The Sixties”. She has also contributed to The Journal of Black Studies (July 2012) through the piece “Model Blacks or ‘ras the Exhorter’: A Quantitative Analysis of Black Newspapers’ Coverage of First Wave Afro-Caribbean Immigration to the United States.”

Whilst I was already familiar with her previous work and her forthcoming Encyclopaedia of African-American Culture, having her as a lecturer was the perfect opportunity to have a conversation about her journey to the UK as well as her thoughts on some of the social issues here, especially as a ‘foreigner.’

How did you make the transition from Pittsburgh to the University of Birmingham?

[Because] I am obsessed with learning about new places, I spent hours and hours on the internet pouring over advice guides for living in the UK and adjusting to UK HE (Higher Education). I spent weeks trying to get the verbiage alone. And I'm still learning. The shift from 'course' to 'module' took quite some time for me to master!

Why Birmingham in particular and not London?