(Nancy G. Isenberg)
Education: Rutgers University, B.A., 1978; University of Wisconsin, M.A., 1983, Ph.D., 1990.
Office—University of Tulsa, 228 Chapman Hall, 600 S. College Ave., Tulsa, OK 74104. E-mail—[email protected].
Historian, educator, and writer. University of Tulsa, Tulsa, OK, Mary Francis Barnard Professor of 19th-Century American History and co-holder of the Mary Frances Barnard Chair in 19th Century American History; previously assistant professor of history at the University of Northern Iowa.
American Antiquarian Society.
SHEAR book prize, Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, 1999, for Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America; faculty award for Outstanding Scholarship, University of Northern Iowa, 2000-01.
Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1998.
(Editor, with Andrew Burstein) Mortal Remains: Death in Early America, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2003.
Contributor to Le Forme Del Teatro: Contributi Del Gruppo Di Ricerca Sulla Comunicazione Teatrale in Inghilterra, Edizioni di storia e letteratura (Rome, Italy), 1979; contributor to periodicals, including Bio.
Nancy Isenberg is an historian whose interests include history and sex in American politics. In her first book, Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, Isenberg explores the origins of the women's rights movement and the various events and ideas that occurred in Antebellum America prior to the Civil War that the author believes laid the foundation for modern feminism. Noting that the author ‘sheds entirely new light on this important chapter in women's political history in the United States,’ Journal of Interdisciplinary History contributor Mari Jo Buhle went on to write that the author ‘proceeds to examine feminists' attempts to comprehend the meaning of equality in light of their unique status as American citizens who, nevertheless, constituted a legally disfranchised or disabled caste."
In a review of Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America in the NWSA Journal, Michael D. Pierson noted: ‘Writing about the intellectual origins and underpinnings of the antebellum woman's rights movement, Nancy Isenberg has discovered abundant evidence of radical gender ideologies in her quest to broaden our understanding of a movement that she rightly observes has been too often oversimplified as a single-minded pursuit of the vote.’ In her book the author covers topics such as the state constitutional conventions before and after the 1848 women's convention in Seneca Falls, an examination of various political issues, and the debate over the property rights of married women. Michael A. Morrison wrote in the Michigan Historical Review that the author ‘plainly proves that these activists exposed the fault lines of American democracy and fashioned an alternative of coequality that would resonate into the twentieth century."
Isenberg served as coeditor with Andrew Burstein of Mortal Remains: Death in Early America. The book presents a series of twelve essays that explores the role that early American life and culture played in fostering a fear of death. ‘They begin from the conviction that experiences with death were enlarged in early America by an imagination of death fed not only by religion, but also by national and gender politics and by race relations,’ commented Donna Merwick in a review of Mortal Remains in the Historian. Merwick added that the editor's introduction ‘insist[s] that the interaction of an early American imagination with social realities still relates to contemporary concerns.’ In addition to the introduction, Isenberg contributes an essay titled ‘Death and Satire: Dismembering the Body Politic."
Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr looks at the notorious founding father who is perhaps best remembered for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel when he shot Hamilton in the hip. Following Hamilton's death, Burr went into hiding as there was a warrant out for his arrest. Previously vice president of the United States and a noted political figure in the burgeoning new country, Burr never recovered his reputation even after he was acquitted of murder when he was brought to trial in Virginia. Instead, he went into exile for many years in Europe, where he lived the life of a rogue with a noted sexual appetite, recording many of his exploits in a journal. Burr eventually returned to the United States and practiced law in New York until he died at the age of eighty.
According to Isenberg, most historians and biographers have not done a thorough job of exploring Burr's life and accomplishments, relying instead on ‘prejudiced characterizations … [that] have been repeated as received wisdom.’ Jill Lepore, writing in the New York Times Book Review, noted: ‘Popular historians, Isenberg argues, have ‘failed to do the legwork’—the archival research—necessary to gain a more accurate understanding of Burr. As a result, they ‘have unconsciously mimicked fictional portrayals.’ If Americans think Burr was a schemer, a traitor and a crazed sex fiend, it's because his enemies and a bunch of hack writers said he was a schemer, a traitor and a crazed sex fiend."
As an example of how the historical record about Burr has been twisted, Isenberg points to the ‘Burr Conspiracy,’ in which Burr was accused of wanting to start his own country by conquering the West and invading Mexico and perhaps even Washington. The author goes into detail about how the conspiracy was actually a plan against Burr perpetrated by his enemies. The author also argues that, while Burr may have overindulged in sex, he was, in fact, a feminist whose wife was ten years older than him and an intellectual. He also made sure his daughter had an education that in those days was reserved for men only. ‘If previous historians have offered less than charitable interpretations of Burr's motives and actions, Isenberg is more than generous in Fallen Founder,’ noted Sarah Bramwell in the National Review. ‘She goes to great pains to unearth the ‘real’ Aaron Burr: a man possessed of deep principles, unfailing as a gentleman, an enlightened thinker with a strong sense of personal dignity."
Reviewers praised Isenberg's efforts to cast a new light on Burr, the man. Writing in the Weekly Standard, James M. Banner, Jr., commented that, ‘because of Isenberg's heavy work, we can now see better than ever before the positive qualities that made Burr one of the great men of his day.’ Referring to Fallen Founder as a ‘persuasive reconsideration of possibly the most scandalous figure in American history,’ a Kirkus Reviews contributor went on to write that the author ‘skillfully submits a brief that her subject, himself an innovative and eloquent attorney, would have been proud to author."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Isenberg, Nancy, Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr, Viking (New York, NY), 2007.
American Historical Review, February, 2000, Candice Bredbenner, review of Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, p. 213; June, 2004, Patricia Cline Cohen, review of Mortal Remains: Death in Early America, p. 901.
American Literature, March, 2000, Eva Cherniavsky, review of Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, p. 189.
American Quarterly, March, 2001, Rosemarie Zagarri, review of Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, p. 123; March, 2001, review of Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, p. 123.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, April, 1999, C.M. McGovern, review of Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, p. 1518; July-August, 2003, L. Sturtz, review of Mortal Remains, p. 1971.
Historian, winter, 2004, Donna Merwick, review of Mortal Remains, p. 831.
Journal of American History, December, 1999, Nancy F. Cott, review of Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, p. 1339; December, 2003, Erik R. Seeman, review of Mortal Remains, p. 990.
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, winter, 1999, Mari Jo Buhle, review of Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America,.
Journal of the American Academy of Religion, March, 2004, Justin S. Holcomb, review of Mortal Remains, p. 261.
Journal of the Early Republic, fall, 1999, Anya Jabour, review of Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, p. 555; summer, 2003, Craig Thompson Friend, review of Mortal Remains, pp. 267-269.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2007, review of Fallen Founder, p. 207.
Law and History Review, fall, 2000, Sarah Barringer Gordon, review of Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, pp. 679-681.
Library Journal, April 1, 2007, Douglas King, review of Fallen Founder, p. 99.
Michigan Historical Review, spring, 2001, Michael A. Morrison, review of Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, p. 188.
National Review, July 30, 2007, Sarah Bramwell, ‘Burr in the Saddle,’ p. 51.
New York Times Book Review, May 27, 2007, Jill Lepore, ‘Vice,’ review of Fallen Founder.
NWSA Journal, fall, 1999, Michael D. Pierson, review of Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, p. 176.
Publishers Weekly, March 5, 2007, review of Fallen Founder, p. 48.
Social History, May, 2000, Sharon Block, review of Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, p. 245.
Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1999, review of Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, p. 80.
Weekly Standard, June 4, 2007, James M. Banner, Jr., ‘Stranger in His Own Land; the Mystery of Aaron Burr."
William and Mary Quarterly, October, 2003, Nancy Isenberg, ‘Revisiting the Governers Generals,’ review of Mortal Remains, p. 889.
Women's Studies, September-October, 1999, Jennifer Leader, review of Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, p. 603.
Nancy Isenberg Home Page,http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~nancy-isenberg (October 26, 2007).