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Ajay Batra, Penn English doctoral candidate, named SAS Dean’s Scholar for 2021

Ajay Kumar Batra (English), a sixth-year student, is writing a dissertation, “Radiant Ephemera: Abolition in the Archives of Atlantic Slavery, 1785-1865,” that addresses some of the thorniest theoretical problems in the historiography of Atlantic slavery. As he closely examines both archival material and theoretical problems, Batra argues that Black subjects who lived under chattel slavery generated vibrant, heterodox visions of abolition in their writing and their everyday lives. His analysis traces the creative efforts by Black subjects to conduct a “fugitive world-making” that helped imagine alternatives to the role of peasant and exploited wage-earner that awaited them on the other side of legal emancipation. Batra has received a Francis Hopkinson Fellowship and a fellowship from the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. His recently published essay, “Reading with Conviction: Abraham Johnstone and the Poetics of the Dead End,” was awarded the American Literature Society’s 1921 Prize for the “best article in American literary studies” by an untenured scholar.


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