Dr Kate Dossett

Senior Lecturer in American History; Director of Postgraduate Research

+44 (0)113 34 33288

Summary: Women and Gender History; U.S. History; African American History; The Harlem Renaissance; Black Theatre; Feminist Archives

Location: School of History, Michael Sadler


Research Interests

Kate Dossett joined the University of Leeds in 2003. Her research focuses on race and gender in the nineteenth and twentieth century United States. Her two main areas of interest are women and gender history, in particular the construction of feminist knowledge through Feminist Archives and Women's Libraries, and histories of the African Diaspora including black nationalism, the international black left, the Harlem Renaissance and black feminism. 

Current Projects

Women, Gender, Sexuality & the Archive.

An international and collaborative project, Women, Gender, Sexuality & the Archive explores the relationship between women in politics and the construction of political histories through a focus on the historical development of archives in the twentieth century. In particular it examines how women’s increased access to public office in the twentieth century affected their capacity to create and record history. Did women political actors use this power to expand narrow definitions of the political or adhere to masculine definitions which enforced boundaries between the public and private spheres? Did women’s ability to control the archive always promote or also limit their access to political power in the twentieth century? If, as Derrida argued, there is no political power without control of the archive, does it follow that control of the archive helped women access political power? These questions are as vital today as they were to activists, historians and public officials in the twentieth century. The challenges posed by the development of virtual archives and  funding cuts reminds us that what we choose to collect and how and to whom we present the records of our past tells us much about our present.

Radical Black Theatre in the New Deal: Black Theatre and Politics in 1930s America

This British Academy Funded project examines how and why black theatre became so central to black political debates in the 1930s. Although the Great Depression had devastating consequences for many American industries and workers, it brought great innovation to American theatre.

In 1935 President Roosevelt's New Deal Administration established the Federal Theatre Project (FTP), a relief programme designed to get theatre professionals into paid work and encourage creativity in the performing arts. While FTP units presented works from the existing commercial repertoire they also commissioned new works. Which new plays should be produced, how, and by whom, became a matter of legitimate public concern when they were supported by American tax dollars. Consequently each production was shaped by a lengthy process of consultation and contestation between producers, playwrights, actors, critics and audiences.

Critically, FTP units also reflected different regional, racial and ethnic identities.  One element of this diversification was the 17 so-called "Negro Units" created for African American playwrights, actors, producers and stage technicians. This unprecedented federal government support for a separate black theatre meant that Negro Unit productions became key sites for political struggle. The programmes and productions of the Negro Units were fought over, not only by policy makers and theatre audiences but also by political groups alive to the tremendous power of a fully-funded state theatre. Productions staged by the Negro Units provide a fascinating vehicle for understanding how African Americans used theatre to negotiate conflicting race, gender and class identities, shape political debates and mobilize support for black freedom struggles, ranging from labour strikes and fair rent campaigns, to protests against Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia and in support of Republican Spain.


Dossett, Bridging Race Divides: Black Nationalism, Feminism and Integration 1896-1935 (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2008) winner of the 2009 Julia Cherry Spruill Prize awarded by the Southern Association for Women Historians for best book in southern women's history.

Dossett, "Gender and the Dies Committee Hearings on the Federal Theatre Project," Journal of American Studies, Vol. 47:4. November 2013.

Dossett, “Commemorating Haiti on the Harlem Stage,” Journal of American Drama and Theatre, Volume 22:1, (2010).

Dossett: “Staging the Garveyite Home: Black Masculinity, Failure and Redemption in Theodore Ward’s Big White Fog.African American Review Volume 43:4,(2009).

Dossett, ‘“I try to live somewhat in keeping with my reputation as a wealthy woman”: A’Lelia Walker and the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company,’ Journal of Women’s History, Volume 21.2, (2009).

Dossett, "Black Women and Work: A'Lelia Walker and the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company," in Major Problems in U.S. Women's History 5th edition (2014).

Dossett, “Black Women, Work and Freedom,” in J. Campbell and R. Fraser eds., Reconstruction: Perspectives in American Social History (ABC-CLIO, 2008): 135-159.

Dossett, “Amy Jacques Garvey” and “Jessie Fauset,” in Richard M. Juang and Noelle Morrissette eds., Africa and the Americas, (ABC-CLIO, 2008).

Recent and Forthcoming Seminars and Conferences

November 2014: "“A Chance to Be Myself:” Race and Realism  in 1930s Political Theatre," University of East Anglia.

October 2014: "Women, Gender & Sexuality in Yorkshire Archives," Feminist Archive North and School of History, University of Leeds.

September 2014: "Whose Archive Is it?: Why we need a history of Feminist Archives," Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow. http://womenslibrary.org.uk/event/feminist-ethics-in-the-archive/

April 2014; "Radical New Deal Theatre," Boston-Cambridge-Princeton Race and Politics Conference, Cambridge, U.K.

October 2013: " 'Qualified Women': Women, Performance and Political Labor in the New Deal," Boston Seminar on the History of Women and Gender. Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.

June 2013: "Women, Performance and Political Culture in the New Deal." Queen Mary American History Symposium.

May 2013: "Our Actors May Become Our Emancipators": Race and Realism in 1930s American Political Theatre," University of Nottingham, American Studies Seminar.

December 2012: "John Henry and Bigger Thomas on the American Stage" Birmingham University American Studies Seminar.

April 2012: “Un-American Performances: Gender and the Dies Committee Hearings on the Federal Theatre Project” British Association of American Studies Annual Conference, Manchester University

October 2012: “Black Theatres for Black Heroes,” Alain Locke Conference, Rothermere Institute, Oxford University.

March 2012 “Un-American Women: Gender, Performance and the Dies Committee Hearings on the Federal Theatre Project” History of Women in the Americas Annual Conference, Brunel University

Postgraduate Supervision

I welcome research students interested in any aspect of gender and race in nineteenth and twentieth century U.S. history and American studies including: Women and Gender History, Black Internationalism; Black Radicalism; the Harlem Renaissance; American Communism, the New Deal and Black Theatre history.

Research students

Claire Martin, Constructing woman: medical discourse, popular culture and society in Britain 1870-1930

Jonathan Wright: Farmers to the Front: Benjamin Tillman and the South Carolina Farmers' Movement

Tom Davies: Black and White Politics -The Federal Government and Black Power, 1960-1972

Gina Denton: Motherhood and Protest in the United States, 1960-1989

Danielle Sprecher: Fashion for the High Street: The Design and Making of Menswear in Leeds 1945-1980

Say Burgin: White Anti-Racism Organising in 1960s and 70s U.S. Social Movements   (completed 2013)

Julio Decker: The Immigration Restriction League and the Political Regulation of Immigration, 1894-1924 (completed 2012  )   

Nicholas Grant: African Americans, Gender and the Global networks of Black Self-Determination, 1940-1960 (completed  2012)  

Daylin Myers: Women, Religion and Conversion (completed 2013)


Undergraduate Modules

Level 2

HIST 2442: Black Politics from Emancipation to Obama
HIST 2441: Race, Gender & Cultural Protest Since 1865

Level 3 Special Subject:

HIST 3240: The Harlem Renaissance: Black Culture and Politics 1919-1940:

Postgraduate Modules

Kate Dossett teaches on the MA in Race & Resistance.  Race and Resistance is a unique interdisciplinary programme that crosses geographical boundaries and offers students a conceptual and thematic education in approaches to race and resistance. She teaches on the core course for Race and Resistance 'Approaches to Race' and offers an option module Women, Gender & Sexuality: Archives and Approaches 

Community Engagement

Kate Dossett regularly hosts Widening Participation workshops and gives public talks on black history. These range from Black History Month workshops on campus for local school pupils, to public lectures at institutions such as the National Maritime Museum and consultant work for the U.S. National Park Service.

She has also been involved in developing Knowledge Transfer initiatives within the School of History and the Faculty of Arts. Recent projects include collaboration with the West Yorkshire Playhouse in their production of The Hounding of David Oluwale.

More recently she is working with Feminist Archives and Women's Libraries on projects exploring the relationship between archives and their histories.