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Villanova History Professor Judith Giesberg, PhD, Receives $60,000 Fellowship from National Endowment for the Humanities

Grant will support work on upcoming book “Last Seen: Searching for Family After Slavery”

Judy Giesberg

Villanova, PA – Judith Giesberg, PhD, Robert M. Birmingham Chair in the Humanities and Professor of History in Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, received a 2022 National Endowment Public Scholars Fellowship, including $60,000 in funding for one year. The fellowship supports the research, writing and other activities of individual authors in pursuit of publishing well-researched, nonfiction books in the humanities written for a wide public audience.

Dr. Giesberg is director of the “Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery” project, which offers access to thousands of “Information Wanted” advertisements placed in newspapers by formerly enslaved people in the US looking for family members who had been taken from them, sold by their enslavers and moved thousands of miles away. Over the years, Dr. Giesberg and her students have gathered the 19th century ads in one place and digitized them, giving genealogists and researchers a new tool for telling family stories of separation and survival during slavery, emancipation and the Civil War.

Dr. Giesberg’s book, "Last Seen: Searching for Family After Slavery" (upcoming from Simon and Schuster) will follow ten individuals as they search for their families through ads placed in the weeks, years and decades after President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Each story begins with an “Information Wanted” ad. “Together the ten stories will offer a new perspective on the history of slavery, the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, postwar racial violence and the rise of Jim Crow segregation,” Dr. Giesberg says. “Each one shows how freedom unfolded over many years as individuals tried to find one another—and to lay claim to those they could not.”

Previously, Dr. Giesberg received a $100,000 grant from the National Archives and Records Administration’s Historical Publications and Records Commission to support her “Last Seen” project. More than four million people have visited the project’s site,, an open-source database created by Dr. Giesberg and her students through researching, identifying and collecting ads from microfilmed Black newspapers from around the country. The project is co-directed by Signe Fourmy, PhD, instructor, the University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. Giesberg is the author of numerous books and articles, including Sex and the Civil War: Soldiers, Pornography, and the Making of American Morality (University of North Carolina Press, 2017) and Army at Home: Women and the Civil War on the Northern Home Front (University of North Carolina Press, 2009). She received her doctorate in History from Boston College.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenging and changing world. With more than 40 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.