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Welcome New Faculty Devyn Spence Benson and Hilary Jones

By Phil Harling

Please join us in extending a warm Kentucky welcome to Devyn Spence Benson and Hilary Jones! Hilary and Devyn are wonderfully accomplished researchers and instructors who joined our faculty this fall as associate professors with tenure, and joint appointments in the Program in African American and Africana Studies. We are so thrilled to be able to call them our friends and colleagues!

Devyn Spence Benson is a 20th century historian who focuses on antiracist movements across the Americas and the Caribbean. Her research and teaching interests sit at the intersection of Africana Studies and Latin American history, and she has worked throughout her career to merge these two interdisciplinary fields by focusing on Afro-Cuban history, politics, and culture. Before her arrival at UK, Devyn has taught at Williams College, Louisiana State University, and Davidson College.

Her first book, Antiracism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution (UNC Press, 2016) is based on over 18 months of field research in Cuba, where she has traveled annually since 2003. She is also the editor for the English translation of Afrocubanas: History, Thought, and Cultural Practices (Rowman and Littlefield, 2020). Her newest project, Black Consciousness in Cuba: The Untold Revolution, explores the trans-Caribbean collaborations between English-, French-, and Spanish-speaking Black Caribbean intellectuals to show how Caribbean black consciousness flourished in Cuba in the 1960s and 1970s. This book project has been supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) year-long fellowship and is under contract with UNC Press.

Devyn is also working with Dr. Danielle Clealand from the University of Texas-Austin to collect oral histories, publish a book, and create a digital humanities website about Black Cubans in the United States. This project was recently awarded a Russell Sage Foundation research grant. Devyn has also published numerous articles and reviews in a variety of distinguished outlets, and her work has been supported by the Doris G. Quinn, Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS), and Gaius Charles Bolin Dissertation Fellowships. She has also held residencies at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem and the WEB DuBois Institute for African and African American Research at the Hutchins Center at Harvard University.

“I’m thrilled to join a History department that has eight Black tenured faculty members,” Devyn says. “That is atypical and highlights how UK History doesn't just speak about equity and inclusion, but rather makes and implements policies and procedures that promote antiracism and racial equality. I was told a couple of times on my visit that Kentucky prides itself on and has a love for Basketball, Bourbon, and Horses. I figure two out of three isn't bad. As a UNC alum, I'm all about college basketball and have deep respect for the UK Wildcats. Bourbon is delicious. And, I'm looking forward to learning more about horses. I'm thrilled to join a department with such a strong oral history emphasis and roots. My newest project, an oral history of Black Cubans in the United States, will be better for developing in the intellectual environment of the UK History Department. “

Hilary Jones teaches and researches about West Africa and its interconnected histories with Europe and the Americas. She studied at University Cheikh Anta Diop (Dakar, Senegal) during her junior year at Spelman College, and went on to earn her Ph.D. in African History at Michigan State University in 2003, minoring in Comparative Black History and African Art History. Hilary’s first book, The Métis of Senegal: Urban Life and Politics in French West Africa (Indiana University Press, 2013) examines mixed race identity and the role of Senegal’s Afro-European population in the social, economic, and political life of Senegal’s 19th-century Atlantic and French colonial towns. Hilary’s second monograph, in progress, is a history of Senegal’s engagements and entanglements in the Atlantic World from the impact of the Haitian Revolution to “Antillean” identity in colonial Senegal and reimagining African Diaspora after World War II, when Caribbean and American artists and professionals travelled to and established communities in post-colonial Senegal. Hilary is also the author of many book chapters and articles. The recipient of a Fulbright IIE Scholar award and a Senior National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship from the Council on American Overseas Studies Centers, Hilary conducted field research in Senegal for the book project during early spring 2020.

“I am thrilled to join the faculty of UK History,” Hilary says. “The depth of expertise in History at UK is truly phenomenal. I had known of the work of UK historians for some time, including that of the late Raymond Betts who was an influential writer on French colonialism. I am particularly excited to join the department at this moment because of the opportunity to work with two scholars of African History (a rare occurrence) and to build on the department’s growing strengths in African American and African Diaspora Studies. Joining UK History offers a chance to be part of a team of scholars who are committed to advancing knowledge about the past while also providing students with the tools for understanding how the past affects the world in which we live today.”