Distinguished Lecturers
Carolyn Eastman

Carolyn Eastman

Carolyn Eastman is Professor of History at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her research examines how men and women engaged with publications, oratory, and visual imagery during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and how those popular media affected their perceptions of self and community as well as the larger political culture. She is the author of The Strange Genius of Mr. O: The World of the United States' First Forgotten Celebrity (2021) and the prizewinning A Nation of Speechifiers: Making an American Public after the Revolution (2009). She is currently developing a new book project that examines the history of the yellow fever epidemics that ravaged New York City during the 1790s. To complete this work, she received a residential fellowship through the New-York Historical Society for the academic year 2021-2022, and a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Grant for the academic year 2022-2023.

OAH Lectures by Carolyn Eastman

The study of epidemics in history often revolves around men -- medical experts, political leaders, and the men whose letters and diaries got preserved. Far more rarely do we see how women faced unique challenges. Focusing on the yellow fever epidemics of the urban Northeast during the late 18th century, this talk uncovers the never-before discussed front-line roles of women, and the gendered effects of the disease, as a means of understanding the long-term effects of yellow fever.

Nothing is more ephemeral than speech delivered during historical eras before sound recording. Yet the more we learn, the more important it appears that we study public speech as a unique cultural practice and form of communication—an important site for the articulation of ideas as well as an explosive and innovative mode for performance, criticism, and debate. This talk explores the significance of public speech in American history, and the rich interpretive potential for a field of study in which style (gestures, staging, facial expression) can tell us as much about substance (a speech's text) when it comes to understanding how people of the past heard.

In 1829 a social reformer named Frances Wright gave dozens of lectures to overflow audiences in cities up and down the East Coast, prompting scandalized newspaper accounts that sought to rouse public outrage about her oratory. The story of this scandalous public woman reveals an important moment in women’s history, and casts light more broadly on the gender politics of publicity for women in American culture that continues to have repercussions today.


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