Doctor of Letters

Gabrielle Foreman

May 28, 2023

P. Gabrielle Foreman ’86 is an award-winning teacher and scholar of 19th-century Black literary history and culture and a national leader in the field of Black digital and public history. She is a professor of English and African American studies and history and Paterno Family Chair of Liberal Arts at Penn State University. Foreman is also the co-founder and co-director of Penn State’s Center for Black Digital Research and founding faculty director and co-director of the nationally acclaimed Colored Conventions Project, an interdisciplinary research hub that uses digital tools to bring the buried history of 19th-century Black organizing to life.

Gabrielle Foreman at a podium
Gabrielle Foreman gave a talk titled, “His Page Was Clay: How an Enslaved Potter and Poet Became a Museum Superstar” during Commencement weekend.

Foreman has published extensively on issues of race, reform and resistance in the 19th century, with a focus on the past’s continuing hold on the world we inhabit today. She is the author or editor of five volumes, including Activist Sentiments: Reading Black Women in the Nineteenth Century (2009); Our Nig: or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, by Harriet E. Wilson (2009), an autobiographical narrative co-edited by Foreman; and, most recently, The Colored Conventions Movement: Black Organizing in the Nineteenth Century (2021) and Praise Songs for Dave the Potter: Art and Poetry for David Drake (2023).

Foreman’s commitment to community-building and collective work runs through her varied career. She regularly forges interdisciplinary collaborations between writers and readers; between artists and viewers; and among established, independent and emerging scholars. For over a decade, she has collaborated with the Sharing Our Legacy Dance Theatre, a group based at the University of Delaware that engages choreographers, poets, student researchers and performance companies to bring early Black history to the stage. There, Foreman has helped bring to life full-length performances based on her historical research into figures including writers Harriet E. Wilson and Harriet Jacobs, enslaved poet/potter David Drake, and activist and editor Mary Ann Shadd Cary.

The recipient of numerous recognitions and awards for her research and teaching, Foreman was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2022. After graduating from Amherst College with a B.A. in American studies, she earned a Ph.D. in ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

President Elliott presents and honorary degree to Gabrielle Foreman

President Elliott presented an honorary Doctor of Letters degree to P. Gabrielle Foreman ’86
during Commencement. (Photo: Matthew Cavanaugh)