Susan Strasser

Portrait of Susan Strasser

Susan Strasser has been praised by the New Yorker for "retrieving what history discards: the taken-for-granted minutiae of everyday life." Her major books—Never Done: A History of American Housework (1982); Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market (1989); and Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash (1999)—have won a number of awards for their contributions to women's history, the history of technology and business, and environmental history, and have been translated into Italian, Korean, and Japanese. She is Richards Professor Emerita of American History at the University of Delaware and has also taught at the Evergreen State College, George Washington University, Princeton University, and the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture. Her work has been supported by fellowships from the Rockefeller and Guggenheim foundations, the German Historical Institute, the Harvard Business School, the American Council of Learned Societies, Radcliffe College's Bunting Institute, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Cultures of Consumption Research Programme, Birkbeck College, University of London. She is currently working on two projects: "A White Historian Reads Black History," a series of talks for religious and community groups, and www.herbstory.info, a website about the history of medicinal plants in American culture.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

Slavery is arguably the most important topic in our history: American ideas about freedom developed in relation to slavery, it was the primary cause of the Civil War, and it was at the heart of American economic growth. This talk—illustrated with nearly sixty images—uses new work from historians to describe slavery as inherent to the development of American capitalism, to put the treatment of human property into that context, and to describe resistance to the slave system. It concludes with thoughts about the contemporary importance of this history. 
American voting has historically been restricted on the basis of many things other than race, including gender, class, ethnicity, religion, age, and personal history. But race stands out. Only African Americans have had the right to vote granted and repeatedly taken away. Voting has been one aspect of a larger system of racist laws and customs, and the right to vote has been intertwined with the rights to good education, housing, and jobs. And that system has been backed by violence, terror, and intimidation. Using nearly sixty images and maps, this lecture surveys this history, with emphasis on two moments of possibility—Reconstruction and the early 1960s— and on recent attacks on the right to vote.
Although neighborhood segregation is now so common in the United States that it almost seems natural, black and white people lived in close proximity in early American cities. This illustrated talk explores how separate neighborhoods developed. Racial segregation was deliberately organized by the actors in the real estate system: cities through zoning; the Federal government through the FHA, the GI Bill, and the 1949 Housing Act; developers through restrictive covenants; realtors through blockbusting; and banks, chambers of commerce, landlords, and public housing administrators. Segregation was enforced by violence and terror.
Responding to the 2015 murders at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Strasser has created what may be called a homemade one-person public history project—a series of talks about African American history to present to community and church groups. Currently she offers talks about slavery, lynching, voting rights, residential segregation, and "race riots," each illustrated with 50-60 images. This lecture offers an overview of the project, for public history professionals.
Violent clashes between large crowds of different races have disturbed the social order in the United States since long before the Civil War, and the phrase “race riot” has been used to describe such disparate events as the Tulsa massacre of 1921, the 1968 uprisings following the assassination of Martin Luther King, and the anti-Chinese riots of the 1870s. Strasser investigates the term, and a history of racially charged violence that has framed American discussions of race throughout the nation’s history.