Arielle Xena Alterwaite

Arielle Xena Alterwaite

Ph.D. Candidate

Odlozilik Graduate Fellow

I am a Ph.D. candidate who studies slavery and emancipation in the Atlantic world with a special focus on France and its empire. In spring 2020, I completed my General Examinations in European History, 1650-1914 (Sophia Rosenfeld), Modern Intellectual History (Warren Breckman), Race, Slavery, and Abolition (Kathleen Brown), and Legacies of the Haitian Revolution (Roquinaldo Ferreira). I graduated with honors from Columbia University in 2018 with a B.A. in History and Philosophy. My senior thesis on medical imaginaries and the emergence of biopolitics on eighteenth-century Saint Domingue plantations won the 2018 Lily Prize in history. 

My research, centered on France and Haiti, examines the social, philosophical, and financial cost of abolition and its short and long-term implications for the legacy of colonialism. Specifically, my dissertation, entitled, "Empire of Debt: Haiti and France in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World," inquires into the international significance of the 1825 Haitian Indemnity debt for imperialism, abolition, and finance. I am also interested in alternative archival methodologies, particularly those relating to humor and jokes. My research is supported by both internal and external grants and fellowships, including a Chateaubriand Fellowship and a Mellon IDRF from the Social Science Research Council. 

At Penn, I have co-organized multiple workshops, including our department's Graduate Colloquium, and reading groups. From 2019-20 I served as the Clio co-president, the department's graduate student organization. I currently contribute, as a research specialist, to the collaborative project "The Long Road to Freedom: Biddy Mason’s Remarkable Journey,” which is supported by a collaborative research grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Long Road to Freedom is co-directed by Sarah Barringer Gordon (UPenn) and Kevin Waite (University of Durham). 

Prospective students, please feel free to contact me if you have questions about studying at Penn.

Advisor: Sophia Rosenfeld

Committee Members: Warren Breckman, Kathleen Brown, Roquinaldo FerreiraSophia Rosenfeld


B.A., History (honors) and Philosophy, Columbia University, 2018

M.A., History, UPenn, 2020

Research Interests

slavery and abolition; race; humor; the Atlantic World, particularly the Caribbean; 18th and 19th century France and its empire; political economy; intellectual history; medicine and science

Courses Taught

HIST 344: European Intellectual History, 1870-1950

HIST 133: The History of Free Speech & Censorship 

HIST 001: Making the Modern World 

HIST 153 / URB 104: Transformations of Urban America, 1945-Present