Distinguished Lecturers
Laura F. Edwards

Laura F. Edwards

Laura Edwards is Professor of History and the Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor in the History of American Law and Liberty at Princeton University where she teaches courses on women, gender, and law. Edwards' research focuses on the same issues, with a particular emphasis on the nineteenth-century U.S. South. She is the author of Only the Clothes on Her Back: Clothing and the Hidden History of Power in the Nineteenth-Century United States (2022); Gendered Strife and Confusion: The Political Culture of Reconstruction (1997); Scarlett Doesn't Live Here Anymore: Southern Women in the Civil War Era (2000); The People and Their Peace: Legal Culture and the Transformation of Inequality in the Post-Revolutionary U.S. South (2009) which won the American Historical Association's Littleton-Griswold Award and the Southern Historical Association's Charles S. Sydnor Award; and A Legal History of the Civil War and Reconstruction: A Nation of Rights (2015).
Her fellowships include the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Bar Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Humanities Center, the Newberry Library, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Smithsonian Institution. Prior to Princeton, Edwards was Professor of History at Duke University.


NEW IN 2022: Only the Clothes on her Back: Clothing and the Hidden History of Power in the Nineteenth-Century United States (Oxford University Press)

OAH Lectures by Laura F. Edwards

As the American populace finds more and more ways to divide itself, some groups have virulently opposed the teaching of African American history in elementary and secondary schools. Other groups just as rigorously oppose granting greater access to Black history and literature to white American students. It is unfair to marginalize white Americans in their understanding of vital knowledge about the history and culture of the United States. Teaching African American history in K-12 institutions offers all students a greater appreciation for the challenges and resilience of the American experiment with democracy—begun in 1776 and continuing today.

Only the Clothes on Her Back tells the history of law and commerce in the United States between the Revolution and the Civil War by foregrounding textiles. Textiles figured prominently in the new republic because of their legal status, widely understood at the time, but overlooked in the scholarship. Longstanding legal practices recognized the attachment of clothing to its wearer, which extended to cloth and applied even to married women and enslaved people who could not claim other forms of property. When draped in textiles, people assumed distinct legal forms that were difficult to ignore: they could own textiles, trade them, and make claims to them. That was what they did, using textiles as leverage to include themselves in the new republic’s economy and governing institutions.


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