Kirsten Sword is an assistant professor in the Department of History; she is an historian of early America in the Atlantic age of revolutions, with particular interests in gender, race and the law. Her 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.
Her IDAH project, Mapping Antislavery, is a geospatial database that tracks Quaker networks, itinerant people of color, antislavery propaganda, and courtroom challenges to slavery during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-centuries. The project maps long-hidden connections among antislavery activists and events, offering fresh perspectives on the rise of antislavery that hold broad significance for multi-disciplinary debates about emergence of humanitarian social movements. She will be developing a database structure that can be integrated with open-source geographic systems to generate maps and other tools for visualizing historical data. The technical aim is to create a prototype for larger databases that will facilitate collaborative and cumulative social historical research.
Thomas Clarkson's 1808 Map of Abolition
Her ongoing research investigates how a world where marriage, slavery and servitude were seen as good, necessary and inter-connected means of enforcing hierarchical social order, has, in the modern view, become a world where such institutional hierarchies are profoundly unjust. She is 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. Her 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, she teaches a graduate colloquium examining the ways computing technology ("the new media") is affecting the practice and perception of history.