VanJessica Gladney

VanJessica Gladney is a second-year graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in History at the University of Pennsylvania. She was a Patterson Graduate Fellow for the 2019-2020 term. She serves as the Co-President for Clio (the history department’s graduate student organization), Co-President of the William Fontaine Fellowship Society, and the Digital Historian for the Penn & Slavery Project.


Advisor: Dr. Mia Bay


B.A., English, University of Pennslyvania, 2018

Research Interests

During the first year of her graduate program, VanJessica Gladney studied the existing works in various fields.

  • Her interests in United States History focused on the theory of Constitutional Originalism, with a special focus on James Madison's position in scholarship.
  • In another project, she combined her interest in Public History with Transnational History, by studying various museums and their methods of presenting the history of slavery to the general public.

She is currently researching streetcar segregation legislation implemented in southern cities during the late-nineteenth-century. This project will focus on African American women serving as domestic workers in white homes, and the ways in which their labor impacted discriminatory legislation. 


Penn & Slavery Project

VanJessica Gladney was an original member of the Penn & Slavery Project undergraduate research team.

  • She studied the slaveholding eighteenth-century trustees & faculty members, and the connections between slavery and Penn's original and current campuses.
  • Her research also revealed that William Smith owned an enslaved person while serving as the university's first provost.
  • In the second semester of the project, she identified the dormitories on campus named after eighteenth-century slave owners.
  • She also added to the narrative around the university's founding date by examining George Whitefield. Her research explored his position in the university's history, the active role he played in relegalizing slavery in the colony of Georgia thus complicating the university's choice to honor Whitefield with a statue on campus. 
  • In the summer of 2020, the university announced its plans to remove the statue. 

After graduating in 2018, she served as the Provost's Public History Fellow, presenting information about the project to members of the greater Philadelphia community.

Currently, she serves as the digital historian with a dual role, assisting with the development of an Augmented Reality mobile application and managing the project's website, both of which feature student work.


McNeil Center for Early American Studies

The Penn & Slavery Project