Feimster named next Head of Pierson College

Crystal Feimster, a historian of African-American history, U.S. women’s history, and the American South, has been appointed the next Head of Pierson College.
Crystal Feimster

Crystal Feimster (Photo by Dan Renzetti)

Crystal Feimster, an associate professor in the departments of African American Studies and History and the programs of American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, has been appointed the next Head of Pierson College, Yale College Dean Pericles Lewis announced at an event in the college last night.

Feimster will succeed Stephen Davis, the Woolsey Professor of Religious Studies and a professor of history, who has been Pierson’s head for 10 years.

College heads serve as the chief administrative officer and presiding faculty member within the residential colleges, and help nurture the social, cultural, and educational life there, a role that has become a cherished Yale tradition.

A native of North Carolina, Feimster is a historian of 19th- and 20th-century African-American history, U.S. women’s history, and the American South.

She will begin a five-year term at Pierson on July 1.

As a scholar who has worked hard to establish a place of prominence in my field of academic specialization, I remain deeply committed to the pursuit of the kind of high-level, high-impact research that is only possible at an institution such as Yale,” Feimster said. “Indeed, one of my goals as an educator has always been to connect undergraduates to this work in meaningful ways. At the same time, I strongly believe in the mission of the residential colleges. This is where the possibilities of university life can be most fully realized.

Crystal Feimster and Peter Salovey
Feimster and President Peter Salovey (Photo by Dan Renzetti)

I am excited by the prospect of being able to introduce new generations of Yale students to those possibilities, and the unparalleled opportunities for growth and learning that await them here.”

Feimster earned her Ph.D. in history from Princeton University and a bachelor’s degree in history and women’s studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Her research on racial and sexual violence bridges the fields of social and political history to shed light on long-obscured aspects of the American past,” Lewis said. “Exploring absences and asymmetries of evidence in the archival record, she draws on the resources of gender studies, critical race theory, literary scholarship, and psychoanalysis to analyze some of the most elusive and traumatic facets of human experience.”

Feimster is the author of the prizewinning book “Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching” and dozens of articles and book chapters. She has also published essays in The New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Slate. She is currently completing two book projects, “Truth Be Told: The Battle for Freedom in Civil War Era Louisiana” and “Uncivil: Sex and Violence in the Civil War South.” Her research has been supported by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Institute for Advanced Study, and other organizations.

She teaches popular courses on topics including the civil rights movement, African-American women’s history, critical race theory, and the women’s liberation movement. In recognition of her dedication to undergraduate and graduate teaching, Feimster has received several awards, including the Poorvu Family Award for Interdisciplinary Teaching (2013), the Provost Teaching Award (2014), the Berkeley College Faculty Mentoring Prize (2015), the Afro-American Cultural Center’s Faculty Excellence Award in Teaching and Mentoring (2017), and the Graduate Mentoring Award in the Humanities (2018).

Jenny and Stephen Davis
Jenny and Stephen Davis (Photo by Dan Renzetti)

Feimster’s partner, Daniel Botsman, a professor in the Department of History, will become the new associate head of Pierson. Botsman is a historian of Japan, with a particular interest in the underside of the country’s 19th-century transformation into a modern imperial power. Originally from Brisbane, Australia, he has lived and studied in various parts of Japan and Korea and, as former chair of Yale’s Council on East Asian Studies, “is always excited to foster deeper engagement with the diversity and dynamism of all parts of the Asia-Pacific region,” Lewis said. He studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar before coming to the United States.

Feimster and Botsman met while they were both completing Ph.D.s in history at Princeton. They enjoy cooking, hiking, and traveling, particularly to Japan and to Botsman’s home country of Australia.

Their two sons, Charles, 17, and Theo, 12, will also join them at Pierson College, along with their Flame Point Siamese cat Stanley.

Charles is vice president of his school’s Model U.N. Club and is a member of the varsity cross country and squash teams. Theo plays tennis, loves soccer, and is a huge fan of [French professional soccer player] Kylian Mbappé Lottin,” Lewis said. “He and Charles are both deeply committed to the serious study of Japanese anime and manga.”

In announcing Feimster’s appointment, Lewis expressed gratitude to Stephen Davis, the outgoing head of Pierson, and his wife, Jenny Davis, the college’s associate head, “for their extraordinary leadership for and service to the Pierson community.”

Lewis also thanked the members of the search advisory committee: Shawkat Toorawa, professor in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and chair of the committee; Pierson fellows Samuel Byrd, director of the Office of LGBTQ Resources; Emily Coates, professor in the practice in the Department of Theater and Performance Studies; Miraj Desai, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry; and Clifton Granby, assistant professor of ethics and philosophy at Yale Divinity School; and Pierson students Geraldine Hernandez-Marin ’23; Charlie Mayock-Bradley ’23; Eli Kennard ’24; Sage Friedman ’25; and Avery Maples ’26.

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