My research in 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 research has been generously supported by numerous grants and fellowships over the years including Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard; Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale; 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 Penn