Micah Khater’s dissertation, "'Unable to Find Any Trace of Her’: Black Women, Genealogies of Escape, and Alabama Prisons, 1920–1950,” examines how black women negotiated encounters with and contested the violence of the carceral state by running away from prisons, jails, and police. She came to her work after finding a series of fragile twentieth-century prison escape notices stored at the Alabama Department of History and Archives. Her involvement in prison abolition guides her project and informs how she thinks and writes about carceral spaces.
Khater’s dissertation sits at the juncture of carceral state studies, social history, cultural studies, and black feminist theory. Using a broad range of archival sources—including handwritten letters, fire insurance maps, jail records, escape notices, bureaucratic correspondence, newspaper articles, court dockets, photographs, and architectural drawings — Khater’s work centers black women’s attempts to reclaim social identities in the “free world.” Her project identifies the act of running away, or transgressively moving through space, as both a rhetoric of protest and an articulation of desire. In this way, “‘Unable to Find Any Trace of Her’” renders alternative narratives of insurgency that acknowledge how kinship, grief, longing, and loss were always bound up with resistive action.
Khater's work has been supported by the Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration; the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition; and the Frances S. Summersell Center for the Study of the South, among others. She earned her B.A. in History and French from North Carolina State University in 2015.