Sarah Pearsall

Sarah Pearsall


Contact Information

Research Interests: Early American history, American Revolution, Atlantic history, Caribbean history, gender, households, and sexualities

Education: PhD, Harvard University

My research specializes in the history of North America in the early modern era, especially the colonial and revolutionary periods of what is now the United States. My scholarship probes the intersections of intimate lives with the larger development, maintenance, and end of formal colonies in North American settings. I also have abiding interests in Caribbean and Atlantic history, broadly conceived.

My first book, Atlantic Families: Lives and Letters in the Later Eighteenth Century (Oxford University Press, 2008, paperback, 2010), grappled with the issues raised by families separated by the Atlantic. It was awarded the Women’s History Network Prize. My second book, Polygamy: An Early American History (Yale University Press, 2019) placed plural marriages at the center of analysis in a history from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. The study of polygamy provides a novel perspective and a deeper understanding of concerns with which Americans and others continue to wrestle: who has the right to engage in, regulate, and define marriage, and why. It received Honorable Mention for the Merle Curti Prize for Best Book in American Social History (Organization of American Historians). My third book, Polygamy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, forthcoming, 2022) builds on this project, with a long global trajectory of disputes over plural marriages, from the ancient world to modern times. My fourth book, Freedom Round the Globe: A New History of the American Revolution, (under contract, Doubleday (USA) and Picador (UK), expected publication, 2026) takes a global perspective on the American Revolution. All kinds of women and men around the world buckled against what seemed to be increasingly oppressive forms of authority and slavery; their struggles for freedom influenced how this American story played out in the years from 1763 to 1788.

I have also written articles in the American Historical Review, the William and Mary Quarterly, Gender and History, Journal of Early Modern History, and Cultural and Social History. I have co-edited special issues for both the William and Mary Quarterly and Gender and History. My research has been generously supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the British Academy, the American Historical Association, the Huntington Library, and the Newberry Library, among others. I was the invited Senior Fellow at the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas in 2017-2018. I am on the editorial collectives for Reviews in American History and Gender and History as well as the editorial boards of the Historical Journal (of which I am a former co-editor) and the Journal of American Studies. I am also a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

I welcome enquiries from students interested in North American history, ca. 1500-ca. 1800.

Edited Journal Special Issues

  • Guest Co-editor (with Sara McDougall), Special Issue: “Marriage’s Global Past,” for Gender & History 29:3 (November 2017), 505-741.
  • Forum Co-Editor (with Mark R. F. Williams), “David Underdown’s Revel, Riot, and Rebellion: Popular Politics and Culture in England, 1603-1660” for Cultural & Social History 12:3 (2015): 289-342.
  • Guest Co-editor (with Julie Hardwick and Karin Wulf), Special Issue: “Centering Families in Atlantic Worlds, 1500-1800” for William and Mary Quarterly (April 2013), 205-424.

Journal Articles

  • State of the Field Forum on “What is Early Modern History? Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies” for Journal of Early Modern History (forthcoming, December 2021)
  • with Sara McDougall, “Introduction: “Marriage’s Global Past,” Gender & History 29:3 (November 2017): 505-528.
  • “Native American Men—and Women—at Home in Plural Marriages in Seventeenth-Century New France” Gender & History 27:3 (November 2015): 591-610.
  • “‘Having Many Wives’ in Two American Rebellions: The Politics of Households and the Radically Conservative” American Historical Review 118: 4 (October 2013): 1000-1028.
  • Arrell M. Gibson Award (“for the best essay of the year on the history of Native Americans”), Western History Association
  • Jensen-Miller Award (“for the best article in the field of women and gender in the North American West”), Western History Association
  • with Julie Hardwick and Karin Wulf, “Introduction: Centering Families in Atlantic Worlds, 1500-1800” William and Mary Quarterly 70:2 (April 2013): 205-244.
  • “‘The late flagrant instance of depravity in my Family’: The Story of an Anglo-Jamaican Cuckold,” William and Mary Quarterly 60:3 (July 2003): 549-582.

Book Chapters

  • “Women, Power, and Households in Early Modern North America” in Ellen Hartigan-O’Connor and Lisa Materson, eds. Oxford Handbook of American Women’s and Gender History (Oxford University Press, 2018), 133-152.
  • “Recentering Indian Women in the American Revolution” in Susan Sleeper-Smith, et al., eds. Why You Can’t Teach American History without Indians (University of North Carolina Press, 2015): 57-70.
  • Translation into Spanish in El otro Oeste: Siete ensayos desde las fronteras del wéstern, ed. Antonio Castaño Tierno (Madrid: Episkaia Publishing, forthcoming, 2021)
  • “Women in the Revolutionary War” in Jane Kamensky and Edward G. Gray, eds. Oxford Handbook of the American Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2012, paperback 2014): 273-290.
  • “Citizens of the World: Men, Women, and Country in the Age of Revolution,” in Old World, New World: America and Europe in the Age of Jefferson, Leonard J. Sadosky, Peter Nicolaisen, Peter S. Onuf, and Andrew J. O’Shaughnessy (University of Virginia Press, 2010): 61-82.
  • “Gender” in The British Atlantic, 1500-1800, eds. David R. Armitage and Michael Braddick (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2002, revised edition, 2009): 133-151, 318-323, 362-3.
  • “Hume—and Others—on Marriage” in Impressions of Hume, eds. P. J. E. Kail and Marina Frasca-Spada (Oxford University Press, 2005)


  • Freedom Round the Globe: A New History of the American Revolution (under contract, Doubleday (USA) and Picador (UK), expected publication, 2026)
  • Polygamy: A Very Short Introduction (commissioned by Oxford University Press, in production, expected publication, 2022)
  • Polygamy: An Early American History (Yale University Press, 2019) [Honorable Mention, Merle Curti Prize for Best Book in American Social History (Organization of American Historians); Finalist, Mary Nickliss Prize for Most Original Book in U.S. Women’s and/or Gender History (Organization of American Historians)]
  • Atlantic Families: Lives and Letters in the Later Eighteenth Century (Oxford University Press, 2008, Paperback, 2010) [Women’s History Network Prize 2008]