UCL Institute of the Americas


Thomas Cryer

'Walking the Tightrope': John Hope Franklin and the Dilemmas of African American History in Action


Dr Nick Witham (first supervisor) and Dr Daniel Matlin (King's College London)

My LAHP-funded PhD explores themes of race, memory, and nationhood in the twentieth-century United States through the lens of the life, scholarship, and activism of the Southern historian John Hope Franklin (1915-2009). Incorporating methodologies from history, Black Studies, Memory Studies, the sociology of knowledge, and critical pedagogy, I’m interested in how the historical enterprise has established, justified, or been used to contest ideas about race. I’m also interested in the role of racialisation within academia in silencing, limiting, or deradicalising counter-hegemonic historical projects more generally, particularly in the American South. My research, then, urges a comprehensive reckoning with how the historical enterprise in America was (and continues to be) shaped by its emergence in a white supremacist society.

Before arriving at UCL, I studied for a BA(Hons) in History and an MPhil in American History at Cambridge. I’m more broadly interested in understandings of American nationhood, and I am currently preparing two research projects from my MPhil dissertation on the 1976 Bicentennial for publication. I’m also Essays and Opinions editor at Stillpoint London and Events Editor for U.S. Studies Online, where I’ve interviewed figures from academia, politics, NGOs, and the arts and heritage sectors. During 2023 I will be working as Kluge Fellow at the John W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress and will serve as a Graduate Representative of the Southern Historical Association from the Fall onwards. I also maintain an interest in the relationship between history and politics, having served on roundtables at the 2021 Ditchley-Greentree Conference ‘The United States: Headed for Renewal or Bound for Division?’ and the 2022 Salzburg Global Seminar ‘Who Owns the Past?’

To find out more about me and my research, please see my academia.edu.

Awards | Grants | Scholarships | Funding

  • John Hope Franklin Center Travel Grant (Duke University).
  • Institute of the Americas Postgraduate Research Award (University College London),
  • European Association of American Studies Transatlantic Grant.
  • London Arts and Humanities Partnership 3-Year Doctoral Funding.

Selected publications

Selected conference papers and presentations

  • 2023: As Yet Untitled Paper on John Hope Franklin and Southern Histories, Southern Historical Association Annual Conference, Charleston, South Carolina, November.
  • 2023: “‘Not As a Negro, Not Even as a Southerner, But as a Historian’:  John Hope Franklin, Public Histories, and the Dilemmas of Black Southern Identity”, British Association of American Studies Annual Conference, Keele University, April.
  • 2023: “John Hope Franklin, Activist Histories, and the Southern Historical Association as a Site of Post-War Racial Conservatism”, Boston University, Stanford University, University of California, Emory University and UCL Joint American History Collaboration, Stanford University, March.
  • 2023: “The Dilemma of the Exceptional: John Hope Franklin, Educational Integration, and Black History’s Popularisation Dilemmas in 1963”, Historians of the Twentieth-Century United States Winter Symposium, University of Oxford, February.
  • 2022: “‘This Textbook Fad’: Black Power, the Paperback Revolution, and the 1960s Reinvention of John Hope Franklin’s From Slavery to Freedom”, CHAPTER Conference: Books in the Closet, UCL, June.
  • 2022: “From Salzburg to Senegal: John Hope Franklin and the Liberal Internationalist Vision of Post-War Black History”, EUI Graduate History Conference: The Uses of History, Florence, Italy, June 2022.