My changing scholarly interests shape my research projects and the courses I teach.  My first book, Suspect Relations: Sex, Race, and Resistance in Colonial North Carolina (Cornell University Press, 2002), explores the central role that women played in the changing ideas about racial difference in an 18th-century slave society.  Using court records and travel literature, the book shows that the way neighbors and court magistrates either punished or ignored illicit sexual relationships made race seem increasingly real.  My second book is American Freethinker: Elihu Palmer and the Struggle for Religious Freedom in the New Nation (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021).  Elihu Palmer combined cutting-edge science with eastern religious practices to reimagine the make-up of the natural world and humankind's place in it.  He believed these insights would bring about social equality without revolutionary violence, but his detractors considered him an apostate and a danger to the new United States.  Although an early Americanist by training, my research and teaching include much 20th-century history as well.  My current book project is a hybrid family history/memoir about my father's German family in 20th-century Germany.  My courses include "Radical Environmentalism in the US," "History through Memoir," and a new Learning Abroad course (beginning in spring 2026) on "Berlin as a Site of History."  I love to teach, and in April 2011 I was honored to receive the Horace T. Morse - University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education.  In 2011–12, I was a Fulbright scholar at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, University of Heidelberg, Germany.  In 2023 I taught as a visiting professor at the Sorbonne University in Paris.  In 2025, I will be a visiting professor at the University of Helsinki in Finland and at the University of Graz in Austria.

Educational Background & Specialties
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Educational Background

  • PhD: History, Duke University, 1994
  • MA: History, Duke University, 1989
  • BA (cum laude): Comparative Literature, Smith College, 1985


  • US social and intellectual history
  • Colonial and Revolutionary America
  • Women, gender, and sexuality in early America
  • Race and racial ideologies in early America
  • American Religious History
  • Cultural encounters in early America