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Nell Irvin Painter (born Nell Elizabeth Irvin; August 2, 1942) is an American historian notable for her works on southern history of the nineteenth century. She is retired from Princeton University, and served as president of the Organization of American Historians.[1] She also served as president of the Southern Historical Association.[2]

Nell Irvin Painter
Nell Irvin Painter.jpg
Nell Elizabeth Irvin

(1942-08-02) August 2, 1942 (age 76)
Alma materUniversity of California at Berkeley
University of California at Los Angeles
Harvard University
EmployerPrinceton University (emerita)
Known forAfrican American Literature; American History; American Slavery
Spouse(s)Glenn R. Shafer
Parent(s)Frank Irvin, Dona Irvin
WebsiteWebsite of Historian Nell Irvin Painter



She was born Nell Irvin to Dona and Frank E. Irvin, Sr. She had an older brother Frank who died young. Her family moved from Houston, Texas, to Oakland, California when she was ten weeks old.[3] This was part of the second wave of the Great Migration of millions of African Americans from the Deep South to urban centers. Some of their relatives had been in California since the 1920s. The Irvins went to California in the 1940s with the pull of increasing jobs in the defense industry. Nell attended the Oakland Public Schools, including Oakland Technical High School, from which she graduated in 1959.[4][5]

Her mother Dona Irvin held a degree from Houston College for Negroes (1937), and later taught in the public schools of Oakland. Her father had to drop out of college in 1937 during the Great Depression; he eventually trained for work as a laboratory technician. He worked for years at the University of California at Berkeley, where he trained many students in lab techniques.[3]

Painter earned her B.A. - Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley in 1964. During her undergraduate years, she studied French medieval history at the University of Bordeaux, France, 1962–63. She also studied abroad at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, 1965–66. In 1967, she completed an M.A. at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1974, she earned an M.A. and Ph.D. at Harvard University. She returned to study and earned a B.F.A. at Rutgers University in 2009.[2] Painter has received honorary degrees from Dartmouth College, Wesleyan University, and Yale University, among other institutions.[6] She received a Candace Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1986.[7]

After her retirement from Princeton University, Painter returned to school at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, where she received a BFA in Art. She then earned an MFA in Art from Rhode Island School of Design. Her first memoir, Old in Art School, reflects on this experience.[8]

Personal lifeEdit

In 1989, Painter married the statistician Glenn Shafer, co-creator of the Dempster–Shafer theory.[9]


External video
  Booknotes interview with Painter on Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol, December 8, 1996, C-SPAN
  Presentation by Painter on Creating Black Americans, December 14, 2005, C-SPAN
  Presentation by Painter on The History of White People, March 23, 2010, C-SPAN
  Presentation by Painter on The History of White People, September 25, 2010, C-SPAN

In addition to many reviews, essays and articles, Painter has written eight books as of 2018:

  • Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas After Reconstruction. Norton. 1976. ISBN 978-0-393-00951-4.
  • The Narrative of Hosea Hudson: His Life as a Negro Communist in the South. 1979. ISBN 978-0674601109.
  • Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877-1919. W.W. Norton. 1989. ISBN 978-0-393-30588-3.
  • Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol. W.W. Norton. 1997. ISBN 978-0-393-31708-4.
  • Southern History Across the Color Line. UNC Press Books. 2002. ISBN 978-0-8078-5360-3.
  • Creating Black Americans: African-American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present. Oxford University Press. 2005. ISBN 978-0-19-513755-2.
  • The History of White People. W. W. Norton. 2010. ISBN 978-0-393-07949-4. A New York Times best seller.[10]
  • Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over. Counterpoint Press. 2018. ISBN 978-1640090613.


  1. ^ "Nell Irvin Painter". Public Affairs Television. February 29, 2008. Retrieved 2009-05-29.
  2. ^ a b "Nell Irvin Painter Home Page". Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  3. ^ a b Frank E. Irvin, Sr. (December 27, 2004). "Frank E. Irvin, Sr. (autobiography)" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  4. ^ "An Oral History With Williams (Bil) Banks" (PDF). The Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley. Retrieved 22 February 2016.
  5. ^ "Nell Irvin Painter, Class of 1959". School Historical Archive. Retrieved 22 February 2016.
  6. ^ "Nell Irvin Painter", Department of History, Princeton University.
  7. ^ "CANDACE AWARD RECIPIENTS 1982-1990, Page 3". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003.
  8. ^ "Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over (Hardcover)". Women & Children First. Retrieved 2018-03-13.
  9. ^ Curriculum Vitae for Glenn Shafer.
  10. ^ "Nell Irvin Painter". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 17 June 2018.

External linksEdit