Department of History

Kirsten Sword

  • Assistant Professor, Department of History
  • Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Gender Studies


  • Ph.D. at Harvard University, 2002

Contact Information

Ballantine Hall, Rm. 735
(812) 855-6289


Kirsten Sword

I am a historian of early America in the Atlantic age of revolutions, with particular interests in gender, race and the law.   My central intellectual concern is with the transformation of early modern household relations of dependence from assumed and accepted ways of ordering society into social and political problems. How did we get from a world where marriage, slavery and servitude were seen as good, necessary and inter-connected means of enforcing hierarchical social order, to the modern view that such institutional hierarchies are profoundly unjust? I am currently working on two book projects that address these questions in different ways. Wives not Slaves:  Marriage, Runaways, and the Invention of the Modern Order examines the links between individual challenges to household authority, legal prescriptions and practices, and the critiques of patriarchal power emergent in the politics, religion and literature of the British Atlantic world between the mid-seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries. My second project tells the stories of six forgotten people whose lives intersected in the freedom suit that spurred the founding of the world's first antislavery society. Their experiences provide windows on the emergence of antislavery as a social movement, on the development of the internal slave trade, and above all into the problem of identity—Atlantic and national, racial and personal—during the revolutionary era. In addition to topical courses related to my scholarly pursuits, I teach a graduate colloquium examining the ways computing technology ("the new media") is affecting the practice and perception of history.

Selected Awards

  • Indiana University Institute for Advanced Study, Visiting Fellow (2008-2009)
  • Research Fellowship, Indiana University New Frontiers (2005, 2007)
  • Research Fellowship, Library Company of Philadelphia (2005)
  • Kraus Research Fellowship, American Historical Association (2005)
  • Organization of American Historians Lerner-Scott Prize for best dissertation in U.S. Women's History, Finalist
  • Barra Post-Doctoral Fellowship, McNeill Center for Early American Studies (declined)

Research Interests

  • Early America
  • American women's history
  • Law and society
  • Antislavery and feminism
  • History and the new media

Courses Recently Taught

Publication Highlights


Wives not Slaves: Marriage, Runaways and the Invention of the Modern Order (under contract, University of Chicago Press)
Revolutionary Lives: Stories of Slavery, Freedom and the Problem of Identity in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Manuscript)
“Remembering Dinah Nevil: Strategic Deceptions and Eighteenth-Century Antislavery,” Journal of American History, forthcoming September, 2010