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Jesse Joseph Olsavsky

Assistant Professor of History at Duke Kunshan University
DKU Faculty


I am a historian who focuses largely on the history of slavery, abolitionism, and their legacies. I teach courses on American history, American political institutions and Pan-African thought. I was previous coordinator of the US Studies major. I am co-director of the Freedom Lab, an interdisciplinary faculty-student research center devoted to the study of un-freedom and liberation in the modern world. I am also co-director of the Gender Studies Initiative, which organizes academic lectures, conferences, discussions, as well as student research on the topics of Gender, Feminism, and Sexuality.

My First book is titled The Most Absolute Abolition': Runaways, Vigilance Committees, and the Rise of Revolutionary Abolitionism, 1835-1861 (LSU Press 2022), which was a finalist for the Harriet Tubman Book Prize. 

I am currently working on my second book, tentatively titled "In The Tradition: The Abolitionist Tradition and the Routes of Pan-Africanism." The project is an intellectual history of abolition’s subversive afterlives in the Pan-African Movement. 

My current and past research has been funded by such institutions as the ACLS, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Yale University, and the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute.

I have published essays on the contributions of enslaved and free women activists to abolitionism and feminism, on underground activism in the life of Frederick Douglass, on runaway slaves, on the antislavery roots of prison/police abolition, and on the influence of abolitionist political theory in the Pan-African, anti-colonial thought of W.E.B. Dubois. 

You can find out more about the work of the Freedom Lab and the Gender Studies Initiative here:

Current Appointments & Affiliations

Assistant Professor of History at Duke Kunshan University · 2019 - Present DKU Faculty
Assistant Professor of the Practice of DKU Studies at Duke University · 2023 - Present DKU Studies

Education, Training & Certifications

University of Pittsburgh · 2019 Ph.D.

Web Links

Book Webpage