About Me

Academic CV
Please click here for the most recent version of my academic CV. [Last updated: January 2016]

Jesse Gant is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is an historian of the American antislavery movement, specializing in 19th century United States African American and Western History.

Long Version
I study and teach United States history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. My specialties are in the political, cultural, and remembered histories of the long 19th century United States West, especially the Old Northwest and its borderlands, during the Civil War era. My dissertation examines the struggles of black westerners in their efforts with the nation’s political antislavery organizations in the decades before and through the Civil War and Reconstruction.

My work has appeared in a variety of places, including the Winterthur Portfolio, the Journal of African American History, the Indiana Magazine of History, the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Magazine of History, the History News Network, the Smithsonian’s O Say Can You See blog, the Journal of Sport History, and the Pacific Northwest Quarterly, among others. You can also find my work on Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, and KDHX FM in St. Louis. Indiana Public Radio has also profiled parts of my research.

Much of my work examines how marginalized groups such as African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants, the working class, and women have variably challenged and accommodated the making of white supremacy in the United States, especially across the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. My current project, my dissertation, looks at such dynamics through the lens of western African American activism and institutions of political antislavery, focusing on especially the antebellum Liberty, Free Soil, and Republican Parties.

In 2013, I published a book with the Wisconsin Historical Society Press exploring similar themes in a very different subject area,  the history of early bicycling. The award-winning Wheel Fever: How Wisconsin Became a Great Bicycling State was co-authored with Nick Hoffman, now with the Missouri History Museum. Wheel Fever has inspired three major exhibitions through partnerships between the Wisconsin Historical Society and the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton. “Catch Wheel Fever” debuted at Old World Wisconsin in June 2014. “Shifting Gears: A Cyclical History of Bicycling in the Badger State,” debuted in February 2015 in Madison. An updated version of the exhibit opened in November 2015 in Appleton, Wisconsin remained on display through the early months of 2016.

I was born in July, 1981, in Janesville, Wisconsin, and grew up within a working-class family on former farmland between Beloit and Janesville. I graduated from Janesville’s George Parker High School in 1999, and obtained my BA in History/Political Science in 2003 from Carroll College (now Carroll University) in Waukesha, Wisconsin. My first paid job was as a docent at the Lincoln-Tallman Restorations in Janesville. From that experience grew my desire to study and teach history for a living. I am a first-generation college student.

As an undergraduate at Carroll, I had the good fortune to study abroad in Russia and Kazakhstan. I delivered my first scholarly paper in June 2001, a 20th century environmental history of Lake Baikal, at Kokshetau State University. After a brief but important stint at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee between 2004 and 2006, where I taught my first courses on African American history, I began the development of what would become my Master’s thesis, “Freemen to the Rescue! Wisconsin Commemorates the Underground Railroad,” under the tutelage of mentors Michael Gordon, Jasmine Alinder, Aims McGuinness, Daniel Sherman, and Will Jones. I then transferred to New York University, where I obtained an MA in Humanities and Social Thought in 2007 under the direction of Jennifer Morgan of NYU’s American Studies department. I enrolled in the Department of History, University of Wisconsin–Madison, in fall 2008, and am presently at work on my Ph.D. dissertation under the guidance of my faculty mentors, Will Jones (now of the University of Minnesota) and Stephen Kantrowitz. I have also worked closely with April Haynes, Susan L. Johnson and Bill Cronon during my time at the UW.

During the 2012-2013 academic year, I had the good fortune of working as the project assistant for the “Emancipations” series, hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for the Humanities, which commemorated the 150th anniversary of wartime emancipation in the United States. During the summer of 2013, I also helped write and research, under the direction of curator Jody Sowell and alongside a team of graduate students, the “250 in 250” exhibit at the Missouri History Museum, commemorating 250 years of St. Louis history. I was a lead writer and researcher on a number of black westerners before the Civil War, including John Berry Meachum, Dred and Harriet Scott, and Cyprian Clamorgan. “250 in 250” opened in February 2014 and quickly became one of the Missouri History Museum’s all-time most popular exhibits.

During the 2013-2014 academic year, through August 2014, I lived and worked in Washington, D.C. as a Smithsonian Institution Pre-Doctoral Fellow. I was in residence at the National Museum of American History and the National Portrait Gallery, where I was advised by Curator Harry Rubenstein of the Division of Political History. During the 2014-2015 academic year, I transitioned back to Madison to work as a Public Humanities Fellow with the Wisconsin Humanities Council and the Wisconsin Center for the Humanities, where I helped develop the Wisconsin Humanities Council’s “Working Lives” Project. ShopTalk, a traveling speakers bureau I helped develop on the theme of work in the State of Wisconsin, debuted in early 2016. As a paid ShopTalk speaker, I also began giving public appearances on “Abraham Lincoln and the Rise of Free Labor in Wisconsin” and “The Commute” as a member of the original ShopTalk 2016-2017 roster.

My work in the public humanities beyond these venues has been extensive. I have also worked as a visitor services assistant with The Brooklyn Museum of Art, as an archival assistant at both the Tamiment Labor Archive (New York University) and the Golda Meir Library (University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee), and as an editorial assistant and expert reader with the Wisconsin Historical Society Press, where from 2008-2013 I worked on developing several volumes of the Wisconsin Magazine of History as well as several book projects as an editorial assistant. More recently, I have helped the staff at the Missouri History Museum develop exhibitions on the 20th century urban crisis and the 250th Anniversary of the founding of the city of Saint Louis.

Before and during graduate school, I also landscaped for a small family-owned Milwaukee business for two summers; worked the produce aisles at Outpost Natural Foods in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin; assembled warehouse orders for shipments to line crews with Alliant Energy in Beloit, Wisconsin; and, finally, assembled office cubicle partitions for Hufcor, a Janesville, Wisconsin-based manufacturing firm. I now live full-time in Saint Louis as I finish my Ph.D., where I share a home with my partner and our dog, “Tubby.”

You can follow me on Twitter (@GantJesse) or Facebook.

Current Projects
My dissertation, “At Freedom’s Edge: Black Activist Challenges to Political Antislavery in the Civil War Era,” examines the struggles, frustrations, hopes, and imposed distances western African American activists cultivated in their relationship with the nation’s political antislavery coalitions in the years up to and through the Civil War.

Grad Student Profile, UW-Madison History Department 

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