Department of History
 

Sarah Knott

  • Associate Professor, Department of History
  • Adjunct Associate Professor, American Studies
  • Affiliate Associate Professor, Gender Studies

Education

  • D. Phil. at University of Oxford, 1999

Contact Information

Ballantine Hall, Rm. 710
(812) 856-0092

Background

Sarah Knott

I am a British-born historian of early America and the Atlantic World, with interests in the rich meeting ground of history, experience and feeling.

My first book explored how sensibility, a way of being that celebrated the human capacity for sympathy, was central to the American Revolution. Sensibility and the American Revolution thus looked beyond our traditional accounts of social unrest, republican and liberal ideology, and the rise of individualism. Sensibility, it argued, was a revolutionary political project inseparable from the founding of the United States. The American Revolution sought the transformation of self and society, as much as the independent forms of government we know so well. This new understanding entailed braiding the methods of cultural history with those of political and social history.

My underlying curiosity in how we experience change, how we feel our way through events, is propelling two current pieces of research. One book is prompted by the explosion of first-person witness accounts that accompanied the momentous political revolutions of the late eighteenth century. Events in the United States, France, and Saint Domingue were documented by enthralled and horrified witnesses. On the Age of Revolutions explores how their accounts were translated, extracted, and rewritten across the revolutionary orbit, contributing both to the immediate experience of political turmoil and to the global dynamics of revolution and reaction.

The other book is more intimate in nature, and perhaps more innovative in method. Lending a history to the contemporary experience of becoming a mother, this book surveys a wide Western historical terrain. The method, whereby moments in the present serve as a catalyst to explore the past, is inspired by a series of current developments in the humanities: the emergence of new narrative history, the use of techniques from literary non-fiction, and the embrace of anecdote by feminist maternal theory. The method also derives from a long-standing impulse in the historical tradition: the desire not just for objectivity and rigor but for empathy and bringing the past alive.

I have a keen interest in the craft of historical writing. I have served as both Associate and Acting Editor of the American Historical Review, the American historical profession’s flagship journal. In 2013, I was elected to the Editorial Board of the UK’s Past and Present.

Selected Awards

  • Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture
  • Research Fellowship, University of London, "Feminism and Enlightenment: A Comparative History" Project
  • Junior Research Fellowship, Oxford University
  • Indiana University Outstanding Junior Faculty Award
  • Indiana University Trustees Teaching Award

Research Interests

  • Early America
  • Women and gender
  • Age of Revolutions

Courses Recently Taught

  • Introduction to the Study of History
  • The Age of Revolutions
  • The Atlantic World, 1400-1800
  • Revolutionary America
  • History of Motherhood

 

Publication Highlights

Books

Sensibility and the American Revolution (Omohundro Institute, University of North Carolina Press, 2009)

Women, Gender and Enlightenment (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)

Articles

“Female Liberty? Sentimental Gallantry, Republican Womanhood, and Rights Feminism in the Age of Revolutions”, William and Mary Quarterly 71 (2014)

“The Patient’s Case: Sentimental Empiricism and Knowledge in the Early Republic”, William and Mary Quarterly 67 (2010)

“Sensibility and the American War for Independence”, American Historical Review 109 (2004)