I first loved history because I learned about people from long ago and places far away. It helped me situate myself within a much bigger world – far beyond my small hometown.

I became intrigued by histories of social movements, ordinary people, and LGBTQ communities. I am committed to social change through education and advocacy.

I am currently Associate Professor of History at Amherst College. Previously, I worked at Connecticut College for ten years as Founding Director of the LGBTQ Center and Associate Professor of History where I received the 2011 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Service Award.

I received a PhD in history from Rutgers University and a BA in history with an English minor from the University of Pennsylvania, magna cum laude.


singular they

Hot Takes @ Public Seminar

Committees are for straight people
Performance of transgender inclusion
Why do you call us ladies?

LGBTQ Histories

“Transgender Representations, Identities, & Communities,” (2018)
“Language, Acts, & Identity in LGBTQ Histories,” (2018)
“Gender Expression in Antebellum America: the Privileges & Freedoms of White Men,” (2017)
“The Queer History of Passing as a Man in Early Pennsylvania,” (2016)
“Transbutch,” (2014)
“The Absence of Context: Gay Politics Without a Past,” (2014)
“Historic Heteroessentialism & Other Orderings in Early America,” (2009)

U.S. Carceral Culture

Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America (2015)
Winner of the 2016 Mary Kelly Prize
by the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic

“Carceral History in the Era of Mass Incarceration,” (2019)
“Prisons Prior to Mass Incarceration: The Ideological Foundation of Women’s Dependency,” (2017)
“Gendered Ideologies of Violence, Authority & Racial Difference in NY Penitentiaries, 1796–1844,” (2016)
“When White Liberals (and Black Elites) Make Things Worse,” (2015)

History of Activism

Taking Back the Academy: History of Activism, History as Activism

“This extraordinary collection of essays by young scholars and leaders in the profession raises questions about our own life choices. Taking Back the Academy! sometimes made me weep and sometimes made me angry. It will lead everyone to probe the meaning and purpose of the scholarly enterprise.” Alice Kessler-Harris, Columbia University

Teaching & Service

My approach to history is informed by queer, feminist, and critical race theories — while remaining anchored in the archives.

My main teaching fields currently include:

Colonial America
Revolutionary America
Keywords in American Culture
U.S. Carceral Culture
History of Sexuality
Transgender History
Race, Gender, and Sexuality in U.S. History
LGBTQ History in Popular Culture

Teaching Tools for LGBTQ History

Transgender Children in Antebellum America at Outhistory
Pennsylvania LGBTQ Histories
Histories of Sexuality & the Carceral State at Notches



My research in early American history centers on social and cultural histories of poor, marginalized, and otherwise ordinary people. My first book was a social history of the founding of the penitentiary in the United States that centered women and paid close attention to how race, class, gender, and sexuality shaped the process. Many concerns that define contemporary debates about mass incarceration were evident in the policies that governed punishment over two hundred years ago, including the criminalization of African Americans — especially women.

My second book is a cultural history of “female husbands” in the eighteenth and nineteenth century UK and US.

My research has been generously supported by numerous grants and fellowships:

Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard University
Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale University
New England Regional Fellowship Consortium
Amherst College Trustee Faculty Fellowship
National Endowment for the Humanities at American Antiquarian Society
Mellon Grant at Massachusetts Historical Society
Research Matters Grants at Connecticut College
Mellon Grant at Library Company of Philadelphia & Historical Society of PA
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Rutgers University Graduate School
McNeil Center for Early American Studies at University of Pennsylvania





Amherst College
Associate Professor of History
111 Chapin Hall
Amherst, MA 01002

email: jmanion at amherst dot edu
tweets: @activisthistory

Faculty profile

Headshot by Code Purple Photography

Background Photos by Jen Manion: National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington DC; Cape Cod National Seashore Salt Pond Visitors Center, Eastham MA; Hyde Park, London; American Antiquarian Society, Worcester MA; London Metropolitan Archives, London; Library of Congress, Washington DC; Paddington Station, London; Provincetown MA.