My area of expertise is in American cultural/intellectual history during the antebellum period (1820-1860). I am currently working on a book that studies the life narratives of antebellum reformers, especially those active in abolitionism and women's rights, to explore constructions of gender and national identity in the early republic.
In the fall of 2010 Cambridge University Press published my third book, Jack Tar’s Story: The Autobiographies and Memoirs of Sailors in Antebellum America. This study focuses on the autobiographical narratives of over twenty-five sailors to explore constructions of masculinity and nationalism in the early republic. My book is the first to use various kinds of institutional sources, including probate records and ships’ logs, to document the stories sailors told. I use seamen narratives to explore how the authors remembered/interpreted their seafaring lives. I particularly examine how sailor authors discussed flogging on the high seas, impressment in the British Navy, combat at sea, especially during the War of 1812, and conversion to evangelical Protestantism and reform activism.
My research builds on my first book, Campaigns Against Corporal Punishment: Prisoners, Sailors, Women, and Children in Antebellum America (1984). My second book was a biography of Thomas K. Beecher, a man who forged an innovative ministry at Park Church, near Elmira College. I focused on his life and work to explore changes in the Protestant ministry during the nineteenth century and to deepen our understanding of the Beecher family, the leading American family of revivalist ministers and reformers during that era.
My current research project is tentatively titled "Gender Conflict, Reform Activism, and Autobiographical Writing in Antebellum America." I focus on the 1856 autobiography of suffragist and physician Harriot Hunt.