PhD candidate Tayzhaun Glover talks about his doctoral work on fugitive slave flight and the abolition of slavery in the French Caribbean
PhD candidate, Department of History
Tayzhaun holds a B.A. (Africana Studies and Anthropology) from Franklin and Marshall College. His doctoral work focuses on fugitive slave flight and the abolition of slavery in the French Caribbean with a particular focus on the Windward Islands.
Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I’m from York, Pennsylvania and went to Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster. I came in with an interest in African Studies, but at F&M it’s more of a program than a department, so a lot of the courses are across different disciplines. I was able to take history, cultural anthropology, literature, etc. It was all very interdisciplinary, and I began piecing together things I was interested in.
My junior year I ended up studying abroad in Barbados where I took a history course and a literature course that focused on post-slavery and the history of the Caribbean. That summer program confirmed that history was what I wanted to do.
Initially, I didn't consider going to graduate school. My advisor encouraged me to think about grad school, and even pursue a doctorate in history, since I would get funding and be able to complete both degrees at one time. Going back to school was a recurring topic but I decided to take a year off to get a break from academia and all the noise about what I should do next. I needed to make sure I was applying to grad school because I wanted to, not because other people wanted me too.
After working in retail, I quickly realized that yes, I needed to go back to school. Duke was the only school (and the history program in particular) I wanted to apply to, but of course applying to just one school isn't the right strategy. My advisor told me to pay close attention to the faculty in the program when I was doing my school research. These are the people you’ll be working with and who will help shape you and nurture you as an intellectual. Are these people you could see yourself working with for many years? Do their research areas align with your interests? Duke had everyone I wanted to work with.
Laurent Dubois is my advisor, which is a great fit since his work centers around the history and culture of the Atlantic world, with a focus on the Caribbean. I also work with my co-advisors: Barry Gaspar who focuses on comparative slave systems, with a special interest in the development of slave society and the evolution of slave life in the Caribbean and Thavolia Glymph who studies slavery, emancipation, plantation societies and economies, Reconstruction, and black political thought in the nineteenth century U.S. South.
When I received an offer to study history at Duke, I accepted the same day. I knew this is where I belonged and I never second guessed my decision.
Can you tell us a little about your research?
I study fugitive slaves’ contributions to the end of slavery in the French Caribbean. Slavery didn’t end overnight and enslaved people’s active search for freedom didn’t go unnoticed. Ideally, I hope to help people think about the different pieces of this puzzle I am studying. I think very often the way people learn about history is a bit backwards. We know the outcome so we assume everything that led up to the outcome was inevitable, but in reality, anything could have happened. There’s a lot of gray area, and that gray area is where my research lies.
Any advice for current PhD students?
Entering into a PhD program is a serious commitment, so be sure you are passionate about what you are studying and focus on what you hope to accomplish. Come in with an open mind and follow what interests you. Getting a PhD is so fulfilling, but if you are in it for the money, you may be disappointed. If you follow what interests you and focus on your intellectual journey, you’ll enjoy the process and be successful.
The first two years is definitely overwhelming with the sheer amount of reading. It can be very easy to compare yourself to more advanced students and you may start to feel like an impostor, assuming that everyone else knows more than you or are a better fit for the program. It’s important to remember that your intellectual journey is your own so don’t compare your trajectory to your peers. And remember, we are all genuinely confused at some point, so don’t confuse confidence with knowledge.
To prove to myself that I am learning and growing, I actually have a folder filled with documents and questions about things I can’t seem to figure out. Every so often I’ll return to the folder and add to the notes once I have the answers. This folder enables me to trace my progress and proves than I am continually growing as a thinker.
I also think it’s so important to have a life outside of academia. Have friends with different interests and careers, watch mindless television, and just take a break from research to recharge.
Why is social science research so important?
Social science focuses on people, systems, and relationships that help us make sense of the present, but also help us think more about our future and well-being. The analytical work and problem-solving skills that embodies social science helps us understand who we are.
What’s next for you?
I’m totally open to a career inside or outside academia. My approach is to take one thing at a time. Right now, I am focused on my research year in the age of COVID and trying to figure out how I’m going to visit archives, since international travel is out of the question for me, and domestic travel is difficult right now as well. I’ve become very interested in the digital humanities and archival work for a quite some time and I am trying to discover more innovative ways of doing research.