Susan J. Pearson Associate Professor

Susan J. Pearson (Ph.D., University of North Carolina, 2004) is an historian of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century United States. She is particularly interested in the cultural politics of reform, the expansion of the state and forms of governance, and the development of American liberalism.

Professor Pearson is the author of the prize-winning book, The Rights of the Defenseless: Protecting Animals and Children in Gilded Age America (University of Chicago Press, 2011) and essays and articles in The Journal of American History, History and Theory, The Journal of Social History, and the Journal of the Civil War Era.

Pearson is now at work on a new project that examines the spread of compulsory and universal birth registration in the United States. Her research details how a once-locally and unevenly-practiced form of recordkeeping became the most essential mechanism for recording and establishing individual identity.


  • The Rights of the Defenseless: Protecting Animals and Children in Gilded Age America (University of Chicago Press, 2011).
  • “A New Birth of Regulation: The State of the State after the Civil War,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 5 (2015): 422-439.
  • “`Age Ought to Be a Fact’: The Campaign against Child Labor and the Rise of the Birth Certificate,” Journal of American History 101 (2015): 1144-1165.
  • “The Secret to Success,” Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas 11 (Fall 2014): 97-100.
  • Susan Pearson and Kimberly Smith, “Building the Animal Welfare State,” in Statebuilding From the Margins: Between Reconstruction and the New Deal, edited by Carol Nackenoff and Julie Novkov (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), 118-139.
  • “Speaking Bodies, Speaking Minds: Animals, Language, History,” History and Theory 52 (December 2013): 91-108.
  • Susan Pearson and Mary Weismantel, “Does The Animal Exist? Toward a Theory of Social Life with Animals,” in Beastly Natures: Animals at the Intersection of Cultural and Environmental History, edited by Dorothee Brantz (University of Virginia Press, 2010), 17-37 (Translated and reprinted: “Gibt es das Tier? Sozialtheoretische Reflexionen,” in Tierische Geschichte: Di Beziehung von Mensch und Tier in der Kultur der Moderne, edited by Dorothee Brantz and Christof Mauch (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2010), 379-399).
  • “Animal Rights Activism,” in Speaking Out With Many Voices: A Documentary History, edited by Heather Thompson (Prentice Hall, 2010), 51-61.
  • “Infantile Specimens: Showing Babies in Nineteenth-Century America,” Journal of Social History 42 (December 2008): 341-370.
  • “The Cow and the Plow: Animal Suffering, Human Guilt and the Crime of Cruelty,” Studies in Law, Politics and Society; special issue, Toward A Critique of Guilt: Perspectives from Law and the Humanities 36 (2005): 77-10. 

Teaching Interests

  • United States History to 1865.
  • Nineteenth Century American Cultural History.
  • United States Women’s History to 1865.
  • Gilded Age America.
  • American Childhood: A History.
  • Human-Animal Relations in Historical Perspective.
  • History of Marriage in the United States.
  • Graduate Seminar in American History: the Nineteenth Century.

Recent Awards and Honors

  • Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies, 2014-2015.
  • National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, 2012-2013.
  • Kluge Fellow, Library of Congress, 2012-2013 (declined).
  • Merle Curti Award in Intellectual History, Organization of American Historians, 2012 (awarded for The Rights of the Defenseless).
  • Andrew W. Mellon Short-term Research Fellowship, Massachusetts Historical Society, 2010.
  • Visiting Scholar, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2008-2009 (declined).
  • Best Article Prize, Society for the History of Children and Youth, 2007-2008 (awarded for “Infantile Specimens”).