Participant Info

First Name
Last Name
Stony Brook University
Website URL
Nineteenth Century, art and labor, working-class culture, dance, Black-Irish, visual art, women artists, artists' models, music, cultural theory
Additional Contact Information

Personal Info

About Me

I am currently an Associate Professor of History at Stony Brook University. I hold a PhD in American History and an MA in European History from Rutgers University, an MA in the Social History of Art from Leeds University in England, and a BA in Music and Dance from San Francisco State University. I think of myself as a labor historian who writes about artists. The premise guiding my research is that every art form derives its meaning and value from the immediate conditions of its production and reception. Whether a male jig dancer in the 1840s or a female illustrator in the 1860s, every artist’s success depends not just on talent, but on what I call “the structure of opportunity” (built on a convergence of economic, political, social and cultural ideas and institutions) particular to his or her historical moment.

I am currently finishing a book on the art and labor of challenge dancing in Antebellum America. It follows the careers of two rival “Negro jig” dancers, an Irish American and an African American, into the worlds in which challenge dancing thrived as a pastime, theater act, and sport. My first book Art Work: Women Artists and Democracy in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New York (Penn Press, 2008) recaptures the unfamiliar cultural landscape in which thousands of spirited young women, supported by daring social reformers, radical artisans, and the “Unity of Art” ideal, studied the visual arts and became professional artists, and explains why we don’t know about them today.

I have also published articles on teaching history through dance, artists’ models, writing working-class biography, genre painter Lilly Martin Spencer, navigating the pitfalls of interdisciplinary writing, and challenge dancing.

Recent Publications

“Man and Money Ready: Challenge Dancing in Antebellum America,” The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Competition (Oxford University Press, online Nov 2018/print Jan 2019).

“Challenge Dancing in Antebellum America: Sporting Men, Vulgar Women, and Blacked-up Boys,” Journal of Social History 48.3 (Spring, 2015): 605-634.

“The Challenge Dance: Black-Irish Exchange in Antebellum America” in Cultures in Motion, ed. Daniel T. Rogers, Helmut Reimitz and Bhavani Raman (Princeton University Press, 2014).

Shake Hands? Lilly Martin Spencer and The Politics of Art,” American Quarterly 56:2 (June 2004): 349-394. Winner of the Nineteenth-Century Studies Association Article Prize, 2005.

Media Coverage
Country Focus
North America
Expertise by Geography
Ireland, United Kingdom, United States
Expertise by Chronology
19th century
Expertise by Topic
American Civil War, Art & Architectural History, Children & Youth, Gender, Labor, Material Culture, Pedagogy, Race, Sports, Women