I’m a historian. And I know how important our sense of the past is to how we understand ourselves, our communities and our society in the present, and what we imagine for our collective future. Here on this site and elsewhere I am writing and speaking about how the essence of history– exploring and revealing the past–is so vital for us all.
My research has long focused on how gender and family intersected with political ideas, practices, and structures in early America– and how that intersection is reflected in what and where and why people wrote. My research materials are mostly texts, but often text that appeared not in printed books of the period, or not even in letters or diaries, but in other formats and genres. Like commonplace books, account books, almanacs, notebooks.
I’m currently finishing two books about genealogy, so I’m writing a lot about that. The first is about how early Americans represented their family histories and what that tells us about that foundational era. The second is both more capacious –genealogy across time and space–and quite brief; it’s for the Very Short Introductions series.
I’m also finishing research for a book about Esther Forbes, and her books including Johnny Tremain.
I write regularly for the Scholarly Kitchen, and my writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Smithsonian and elsewhere. The pieces I’ve written and talks I’ve given are all linked in this site.
I’m the 8th Director and Librarian of the John Carter Brown Library, founded in 1904, and Professor of History at Brown University. From 2013-21 I was the director of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture and I taught at William & Mary for more than 15 years. I also taught at American University, and I started my teaching career at Old Dominion University. I did PhD work at Johns Hopkins University, where the history department faculty continues to dazzle and teach me.