Adam Lee Cilli

Adam Cilli
Adam Lee Cilli
Assistant Professor of History

Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Contact Information:
Phone: 814-362-7543
Location: 217C Swarts Hall

Short Bio

Canaan, Dim and Far

Adam Lee Cilli specializes in U.S. social history from the late nineteenth century through World War II. His first book, Canaan, Dim and Far: Black Reformers and the Pursuit of Citizenship in Pittsburgh, 1915-1945 (University of Georgia Press, 2021), illuminates the social justice efforts of journalists, scholars, social workers, medical experts, lawyers, and other professionals who navigated the fraught racial landscape of the urban North during the first phase of the Great Migration. Upending traditional depictions of Black reform work that stress its essential ties to racial uplift ideology, this study shows how reformers experimented with a variety of strategies as they moved fluidly across ideologies and political alliances to find practical solutions to profound inequities. These activists pursued an expansive vision of economic and political citizenship, and in the process they developed crucial social safety supports in Black neighborhoods that buffered southern migrants against the physical, civil, and legal impositions of northern Jim Crow.

Professor Cilli has also published articles in the Journal of Women’s History, Journal of Urban History, and Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, and he is currently co-editing (with Stephanie Shaw) a volume that highlights new scholarship on African American professionals in the Jim Crow era.

Since earning his PhD in History from the University of Maine in 2016, Professor Cilli has taught at Gannon University, Texas A&M University in San Antonio, and the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. In upper-division seminars, period courses ranging from the Civil War to the contemporary era, and U.S. history surveys, he has incorporated the themes of freedom and activism that drive his research.

Research, Accomplishments, and Publications


Canaan, Dim and Far: Black Reformers and the Pursuit of Citizenship in Pittsburgh, 1915-1945 (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2021). UGA Press | Bookshop | IndieBound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Articles and Chapters

‘The Curing of Ills’: African American Women Activists at the Intersections of Race, Class, and Gender during the Great Migration,” Journal of Women’s History 33, no.1 (2021): 37-60.

The Pursuit of Happiness: Racial Utilitarianism and Black Reform Efforts in John T. Clark’s Urban League,” Journal of Urban History 45, no.1 (2019): 6-22.

Robert L. Vann and the Pittsburgh Courier in the 1932 Presidential Election: An Analysis of Black Reformism in Interwar America,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 141, no.2 (2019): 141-176.

“In Search of Knowledge and Opportunity: Josephine Crawford Bellinger and the San Antonio Register,” in We Did It: Portraits of African American Women in Texas History, ed. Bruce A. Glasrud (College Station: Texas A&M University Press) (forthcoming).