Publication Date

April 9, 2020

Perspectives Section

Member Spotlight, Perspectives Daily


  • Latin America/Caribbean


Religion, Slavery

Maria Cecilia Ulrickson is an assistant professor at the School of Theology and Religious Studies at Catholic University of America. She lives in Hyattsville, Maryland, and has been a member since 2016.


Maria Cecillia Ulrickson

Alma maters: BA (political and social thought), University of Virginia, 2011; MA, University of Notre Dame, 2015; PhD, University of Notre Dame, 2018

Fields of interest: Catholicism, slavery, colonial Latin America, Haiti and the Dominican Republic

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today?

I am a historian of religion at the intersection of slavery and empire. My geographic expertise is in the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and the colonial-era Caribbean and Atlantic more broadly. I have been an assistant professor for two years. My first job was in a traditional history department at Morgan State University (Baltimore) teaching Latin America and the African diaspora. Right now, I am on the faculty in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at Catholic University of America (Washington, DC), hired in American church history. I was hired for my work on Black Catholic institutions and devotions during and after emancipation in the Americas.

What do you like the most about where you live and work?

I live in Prince George’s County in Maryland, across the border from the NE quadrant of Washington, DC. I like living somewhere that I study. I was trained as a Latin Americanist but my project on Catholicism and emancipation has brought me to archives in DC and Maryland.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am wrapping up revisions on my book manuscript, Freed Four Times in Santo Domingo. It is a study of the multiple emancipations extended by Haiti across the border, an examination of the ways that slavery transforms under incomplete emancipation. I am writing a new first chapter, which provides an overview of slave holding and the slave trade (legal and illegal) in 18th-century Santo Domingo. I am also finishing two co-authored articles with a colleague: one on the property, businesses, and labor of emancipated African-born women, and another on the ways that emancipation transformed marriage and kinship. Both of these projects are set in independent Haiti, and they are our first co-authored projects. You can check out a teaser for one of those articles at

Have your interests evolved since graduation? If so, how?

In graduate school, I wanted to research something that would connect me more with my Dominican family, so I started in archives in the Dominican Republic. That is where I found my first project, on emancipation in Santo Domingo. As I was wrapping up the dissertation, I pulled on a thread that I found over and over again in many archives—the relationship between emancipation and religion, especially Catholicism. This theme shows up in scholarship of US slavery but we do not yet understand it in Latin American and Caribbean contexts. I followed the trail and realized that I had become a historian of religion, which led me to my position at the Catholic University of America.

What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives or while doing research?

Most of my archival research has been in notarial and sacramental records, but I love working through correspondence collections. Reading correspondence is like taking a class on historical empathy. This summer I read through the Pierre Toussaint Papers at the New York Public Library. Toussaint was a Saint-Domingue born, formerly enslaved hairdresser, a philanthropist, and a devout Catholic in 19th-century NYC. Apart from what I was searching for (clues to describe Black Catholic piety and devotions in the 19th-century US), I found a sketch of Toussaint’s client’s hair style, steps to the dance that the Toussaint family had danced the night before, and a letter with plans to send an unwanted dog to Havana.

Why is membership in the AHA important to you?

My favorite part of AHA membership is getting Perspectives in the mail—I read it cover to cover. I always look forward to the articles on pedagogy. I also appreciate that historians have a national voice in American and global politics through the AHA.

AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.

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Matthew Keough
Matthew Keough

American Historical Association