OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Amy S. Greenberg

Portrait of Amy S. Greenberg
Image Credit: Fred Weber

Amy S. Greenberg is the George Winfree Professor of History and Women's Studies at Penn State University, where she has taught since 1995. She is the author of five books, including A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico (2012), which received awards from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, and the Western History Association, and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, multiple works on the history of U.S. territorial expansion, and, most recently, an award-winning biography of a little-known early female power broker, Lady First: The World of First Lady Sarah Polk (2019), Greenberg has received major fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, and American Philosophical Society, among others; is the winner of Penn State University's George Atherton Award for Teaching; and was named a top young historian by History News Network. She is currently at work on a study of dissent in nineteenth-century U.S. imperialism.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

Although few people know her name today, the most powerful woman in American in 1848 was First Lady Sarah Childress Polk. This lecture will explain how the Tennessee-born wife and partner to James K. Polk was able to amass and exercise a remarkable level of political power, and help prosecute a war that took half of Mexico's territory, while maintaining a public image of pious subservience. It will also explore Sarah's manipulation of Union and Confederate generals during the Civil War, and lasting influence on women's organizations and Southern political ideology.
The 1846-1848 war between the United States and Mexico has often been described as one of America's "forgotten" wars, but the bloody and divisive conflict transformed North America in a variety of ways which are worth remembering. This lecture will explore the lasting impact of the war on the cultures of the United States and Mexico, on concepts of race and class, and the meaning of patriotism and dissent.
It's all too easy to take the current territorial boundaries of the United States for granted, but as this talk will make clear, there was nothing "Manifest" about the current shape of the nation either for expansionists who demanded the annexation of Cuba, Canada, Central America, and the entirety of Mexico, or for the many Americans who believed the United States large enough before the remarkable territorial acquisitions of the 1840s. This lecture will return contingency to its rightful place in the process of U.S. empire building.
Abraham Lincoln entered national politics intent on shaping America's economic policy, but his first national political speech boldly opposed the U.S.-Mexican War. This talk will explore how and why Lincoln's political priorities changed, and consider the implications of his anti-war stance in 1847 on his subsequent career.
The Daughters of the American Revolution is America's most important and popular hereditary society, but its founding had a great deal more to do with the 1846 war between the U.S. and Mexico than the American Revolution. This talk will explore DAR founder Ellen Hardin Walworth's family experience of war, and the implications of war against Mexico on the politics of memory in the United States.
Prior to the 1850s, there was no such thing as a paid fire department in the United States. Plenty of men were willing to fight fires for free in the flammable cities of America, and these volunteer firemen did so, to great popular acclaim. So why, over a very short period of time, did municipal governments unanimously decide that it was worth paying men to fight fires, and why did urban property owners agree to pay taxes for a service they had previously received for free? This talk will explore the rise and fall of the urban volunteer department in nineteenth-century America, and will suggest what was lost in rejection of volunteerism.