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History Peeps: April Hatfield, Associate Professor

Dr. April Hatfield’s interest in history began in her fifth-grade social studies classroom in Toledo, Ohio. Dr. Hatfield’s fifth-grade teacher was a former civil rights activist who imparted a passion for justice to her students. Dr. Hatfield states that when Mrs. Fields discussed her participation in marches, “I got the depth and strength of the African American community she had grown up in,” and it awakened Dr. Hatfield’s interest in the oppression people had experienced in other times and places.

Although Dr. Hatfield initially majored in biology at Duke University, a freshman Western civilization course rekindled her interest. Dr. Hatfield admits she became “hooked” after taking two classes in African American history. Her interest grew into a fascination with the ways that ideas about race developed during the colonial period and shaped the subsequent evolution of the United States.

Today, Dr. Hatfield encourages students to ask questions that matter. She views history as a collaborative project in which teachers and learners alike seek to answer fundamental questions about the past. She particularly loves to teach the undergraduate research seminars, HY 280 and HY 481. From fledgling ideas to polished essays, the process of helping students navigate their way is a joy. Their end-of-term presentations are especially delightful. Watching them present their papers with a sense of wonder and pride at the end of the semester is Dr. Hatfield’s favorite part of teaching. She muses, “They do some really great research and analysis.”

To what historical figure would Dr. Hatfield like to say “Howdy,” given a chance? She would love to meet Brixida Maria de la Concepción, a free woman of multiracial heritage whom Henry Morgan captured and sold into slavery when he and his crew ransacked Spanish Panama in 1671. Trained as a midwife and enslaved on a Jamaican sugar plantation, she risked a daring escape to Cartagena de Indias (in present-day Colombia) at the age of twenty. Spanish officials there recognized her Spanish citizenship and granted her freedom. Dr. Hatfield asserts, “It’s people like that I want to talk to. We only know a little about her—she never wrote anything down—but she saw the world!” She beams and adds, “I want to understand the Caribbean from her perspective.”