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PhD student wins prestigious funding awards for slave emancipation research

PhD student wins prestigious funding awards for slave emancipation research

A University of Wolverhampton academic has recently won two prestigious prizes, highlighting the importance of her PhD research into the slave trade. 

Ifemu Omari is a PhD candidate in the School of Humanities at the University and a member of the University’s Centre for Transnational and Transcultural Research.  

Her research looks at the supplementary writing in the slave narrative The History of Mary Prince (1831) as well as the nineteenth-century public response to the book.  

Using archival materials, Ifemu examines how Mary, a semi-illiterate black woman, and her book caused a furore both in Britain and the West Indies. Ifemu's PhD research and the work which emanates from it, embrace both her skills and passion as a teacher and a creative. 

She has been awarded the first BARS President Prize worth £1,500. The British Association for Romantic Studies (BARS) is the UK’s leading national organisation for promoting the study of Romanticism and the history and culture of the period from which it emerged. 

With over 400 members worldwide, BARS acts as a hub for scholarship by organising events, supporting conferences, circulating news, awarding prizes and fellowships, supporting early career researchers, publishing a review journal, and establishing links with sister organisations.  It provides a voice for Romantic Studies both within higher education and more generally, advocating for the importance and interest of the Romantic period by providing platforms for fostering, disseminating and promoting excellent research. 

Ifemu has also been selected as one of two awardees of the Keats-Shelley Association Carl H. Pforzheimer, Jr. Grant for her research project: “Italy and the Irish Romantics: Networks, Nations, and Literary Encounters 1798–1848.” The award is funding of $3,000. 

The Pforzheimer Grants are awarded each year to support research in Romantic-era literature and culture. The awards honour Carl H. Pforzheimer, Jr. (1907-1996), past president of the Keats-Shelly Association. 

The judges’ report states: "By moving beyond black-white oppositions to investigate how people of mixed race regarded and were regarded by others in nineteenth-century Antigua, this project on ‘colourism' will add nuance, complexity and depth to our understanding of racial conflict in The History of Mary Prince and the world in which she lived.  

“The judges admired Omari's ambitious interest in both public and scholarly engagement, which includes plans to collaborate with the University of Wolverhampton to organise an on-line seminar with Antigua National Archives, the National Library of Antigua and the local Antiguan communities.  

“Her interest in engaging in both academic and non-academic audiences in an international public forum was especially appealing. The proposal stands out for its respect for the integrity of the research process: it states an eagerness for knowledge whether the findings 'verify' or 'refute' the researcher’s hypothesis." 

Ifemu said: “I'm absolutely delighted to have been awarded funding from these prestigious literary associations.  It really is amazing that my research and my wider work have been recognised internationally in this way. 

“Both awards complement one another. While the President’s Fellowship allows me to launch an interactive website which will dynamically fuel conversations about Mary Prince and other historic contributors to British slave emancipation, the Pforzheimer Award will give me the opportunity me to travel to Antigua and have deeper conversations and forge partnerships on an international platform.  Both these awards enable me to explore how these histories resonance with the 21st century.  

“My doctorate will help consolidate a portfolio of work with both colleagues in academe and regional communities. The prospect of such partnerships are exciting and much needed.” 

Ifemu says that Mary Prince’s autobiography, the focus of her PhD work, embraces the trauma, resilience and triumphs found in her own fictional female characters such as in her play Mule which was read at the Birmingham Rep in 2015 and her published short story, ‘Obeah Catastrophe’ (Tindal Street Press), which deals with issues of gender and sexuality with a distinctly Caribbean sensibility.   

Prior to her research, Ifemu's career spanned fifteen years in the Adult Education sector teaching Literature as well as a decade in Arts Management and Creative Writing.  Ifemu is passionate about public engagement which she says is her lifeblood. She regularly presents seminars and talks about her career and research to both non-academic and academic communities.  

Professor Sebastian Groes, Director of the Centre for Transnational and Transcultural Research, said: “We’re delighted with Ifemu’s achievements. She is an outstanding PhD student and these awards are not only well-deserved but also evidence of the fact that CTTR and its PhD-students are a group of incredibly talented thinkers who are stimulating the growing research culture in the School of Humanities.” 

Ifemu was also shortlisted for the BBC Radio 3/AHRC New Generation Thinkers in 2021. 

Find out more about the University's research in these publications:  

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