Nell Irvin Painter '98 HON is a distinguished and award winning scholar and writer. A graduate of Harvard University, Painter went on to become the Edwards Professor Emeritus of American History at Princeton University. She is the author of seven books and countless articles relating to the history of the American South. Painter's latest book, The History of White People, guides us through more than 2000 years of Western civilization, illuminating not only the invention of race but the frequent praise of "whiteness."
Her critically acclaimed book, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol, won the nonfiction prize of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. In Sojourner Truth, Painter focuses on the life of the black abolition-ist and women's rights advocate. A related article, "Representing Truth: Sojourner Truth's Knowing and Becoming Known," appeared in The Journal of American History. Painter is also the author of Southern History Across the Color Line, which moves across the divides that have compartmentalized southern history, women's history, and African American history by focusing on relationships among men and women of different races.
Sojourner Truth, as person and as persona, tells us many things. Having endured the ordeal of American enslavement, she shows us its psychological cost, something we seldom confront. During her lifetime as a free person, Truth used photography, then a new technology, to document her identity of a person of worth. And we, after her death, have fashioned and refashioned her into an icon we can use, even as what we want from her persona has changed over time.