Professor Schwalm is a historian of gender and race in the nineteenth-century U.S., and her research focuses on slavery, the Civil War, and emancipation. She holds joint appointments with the Department of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies (where she is department chair) and with History. She is also a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences DSHB Faculty Scholar.
Leslie, along with Tom Keegan (Head of The University of Iowa Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio) is co-director of the Iowa Satellite of the national Colored Conventions Project, working to recuperate, interpret, and make visible the civil rights activism African American women and men in 19th-century Iowa.
Leslie's first book, A Hard Fight For We: Women's Transition from Slavery to Freedom in South Carolina (1997), studied how wartime enslaved women, at the point when slavery was disintegrating, struggled to control their own labor, resist slave owners' demands, survive the violence of the military conflict, and also fought for respect within their own households. The book was awarded the Willie Lee Rose Prize by the Southern Association of Women's Historians in 1998.
Leslie's second book, Emancipation's Diaspora (UNC Press, 2009), explored how and why Civil War-era emancipation was a national, not only southern, phenomenon. She finds that the upper Midwest experienced a vigorous contest over the meaning of emancipation and citizenship among white and African American Midwesterners, men and women, during and after the Civil War.
Leslie is currently writing a book, Bodies of Knowledge: Medical Science, Racism, and the US Civil War, about northern white medical and scientific professionals and their wartime investments in racist science and medicine.