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Suspect Relations, a book by Kirsten Fischer

Kirsten Fischer

Department of History 1049 HellerH 271 19th Ave S

Department Affiliations


I am an historian of early America. My first book, Suspect Relations: Sex, Race, and Resistance in Colonial North Carolina (Cornell, 2002), is about racism in the 18th century. It focuses on the interactions of ordinary people in a slave society, and on the way their intimate relationships (and the treatment of these in court) made racial difference seem increasingly real. My current research is about freethought in the early Republic. I am writing a book about Elihu Palmer, an ardent advocate in New York of some of the most radical ideas coming out of the European Enlightenment. In 2011/12, I was a Fulbright scholar at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, University of Heidelberg, Germany. In April 2011, I was honored with the Horace T. Morse - University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education.


  • Colonial and Revolutionary America
  • U.S. social and intellectual history
  • American Religious History
  • Cultural encounters in early America
  • Radicalism in Early America
  • Women, gender, and sexuality in early America
  • Race and racial ideologies in early America

Educational Background

  • Ph.D.: History, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, 1994.
  • MA: History, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, 1989.
  • B.A. (cum laude): Comparative Literature, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, 1985.


  • “˜Religion Governed by Terror’: A Deist Critique of Fearful Christianity in the Early American Republic“ : Fischer, Kirsten, Revue Franí§aise D'í‰tudes Américaines, No. 125 13-26, 3e Trimestre, 2010.
  • "'As Near to Atheism as Twilight is to Darkness': Thomas Paine's Deism in a Religious Republic": Fischer, Kirsten, San Diego State University Press, Thomas Paine: Common Sense for the Modern Era, 260-273, 2007.
  • Suspect Relations: Sex, Race, and Resistance in Colonial North Carolina. Fischer, Kirsten, Cornell University Press, 2002.
  • Colonial American History. Fischer, Kirsten, Co-edited with Eric Hinderaker, Blackwell Readers in American Social and Cultural History, Author, 2002.
  • "The Imperial Gaze: Native American, African American, and Colonial Women in European Eyes": Fischer, Kirsten, Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, The Blackwell Companion to American Women's History, 3-19, 2002.
  • "In Retrospect: The Career of Francis Jennings": Fischer, Kirsten, Reviews in American History, 30:4 517-529, 2002.
  • "Sex, Race, and the Colonial Project": Fischer, Kirsten, William and Mary Quarterly, 60:1 197-198, 2003.
  • 'Common Disturbers of the Peace': The Politics of White Women's Sexual Misconduct in Colonial North Carolina.: Fischer, Kirsten, Beyond Image and Convention: Explorations in Southern Women's History, 1998.
  • 'False, Feigned, and Scandalous Words': Sexual Slander and Racial Ideology Among Whites in Colonial North Carolina: Fischer, Kirsten, The Devil's Lane: Sex and Race in the Early South, 1997.

Research Activities

  • Pantheism Comes to America: Elihu Palmer and Radical Religion in the Early Republic : Elihu Palmer, a former Presbyterian minister, made it his life's work to share the most radical ideas of the European Enlightenment with his American audience. Palmer gave weekly lectures and published a book that described the universe as comprised of a singular substance, endless and eternally in motion. Palmer's work challenges the scholarship that has described the American Enlightenment as a strictly moderate affair. Awareness of Palmer's efforts will recast current debates over the impact of religion in the new nation.

Outreach Activities

  • “Religious Freedom Then: James Madison and the Fight for Religious Freedom in Virginia,“ an interactive workshop with high school students involved in LEADD (Leadership Education Advancing Democracy and Diversity), a project of the Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition, Carondolet Center, St. Paul, MN, October 21, 2010.
  • “Religion and the Founders,“ Two-day seminar for the Chicago “Teachers as Scholars“ project, Newberry Library, Chicago, May 1-2, 2008.
  • "Religion and the Founders," "Reeling in the Revolution: The American Revolution on Film": Two presentations and a roundtable discussion as part of the "Historians in the Schools" project for St. Paul Public School Teachers, June 18-19, 2007
  • "American Founders and the Founding Documents": Three-part seminar for high school teachers as part of the "Historians in the Schools" grant project. Minnesota Historical Society, February 15, 2006
  • “Teaching Revolutionary America.“ Two-day (7-part) Teacher Institute Seminar for high school teachers as part of the “Teaching American History“ grant project. Humanities Education Center of the Minnesota Humanities Commission, Nov. 11-12, 2005.
  • "Andrew Jackson and Indian Removal": Interactive lecture given at the Bridge for American History workshop for teachers, Minnesota Historical Society, October 22, 2002 and January 28, 2004


  • Fulbright Award. Heidelberg Center for American Studies, University of Heidelberg, Germany, 2011-2012
  • Recipient of the Horace T. Morse-University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education, 2011
  • Deutsche Bank Junior Scholar-in-Residence Fellowship, Center for American Studies, University of Heidelberg, Germany, 2008 - 2009
  • University of Minnesota: McKnight Research Award, 2007 - 2010
  • Chair's Initiative Faculty Research Grant, 2007
  • NEH Summer Fellowship, 2002
  • University of Minnesota: Grant-in-Aid Fellowship, 2001 - 2002
  • University of Minnesota: McKnight Summer Fellowship, 2001
  • The Newberry Library, Chicago: NEH/Lloyd Lewis post-doctoral fellowship, 1999
  • Tanner Humanities Center, University of Utah: post-doctoral fellowship, 1998
  • 1993-94 National Endowment for the Humanities: Dissertation Grant, 1993-1994
  • American Historical Association: Michael Kraus Research Grant, 1991

Courses Taught

  • Religion and the U.S. Founding: Contests Then and Now Over the Role of Religion in American Politics
  • "Sinners, Saints, and Savages": Religious Encounters in Early America
  • Radicalism in Early America
  • Authority and Rebellion: U.S. History to 1865
  • The American Enlightenment and Religion (graduate seminar)
  • Religion and Society in Early America (graduate seminar)
  • Religion and Radicalism in Early America (graduate seminar)
  • History, Religion, and the Culture Wars (graduate survey)
  • Nationalism and Expansion in the Early Republic (graduate seminar)
  • Race in Early North America (graduate seminar)
Alternative Output Formats Alternative Output Formats

Featured Faculty

  • Prof. Ruggles Chosen to Lead Population Association of America (PAA)

    Prof. Steve Ruggles has been chosen president-elect of the Population Association of America (PAA) He will be the first historian ever to lead that organization (more typically its presidents have been sociologists or economists). Steve will serve as PAA president-elect in 2014 and president in 2015.

    This honor is recognition of the great work that Steve has done both in his own research and in supporting the work of other scholars through his work with the Minnesota Population Center. Congratulations, Prof. Ruggles!

    Learn more about the Population Association of America (PAA)

    March 15th, 2014
  • Digital Research Projects by HIST 3959 Students

    In Fall 2013, HIST 3959 - How to Do History was taught by Prof. Donna Gabaccia with a focus on digital history research projects. One additional feature of HIST 3959 this fall was that six graduate students earned graduate credit by working with the undergraduate groups as "project managers."

    Here is a sample of innovative projects from class:

    The Pacific Railroad Surveyors
    Jewish Life in 1930s/40s Minneapolis
    Why Public Education?
    Rustication in the Chinese Cultural Revolution
    Early Scandinavian Cartography
    Korea, Forgotten War?
    Political Leadership and Masculinity

    December 13th, 2013
  • Major Awards for History Profs. Kevin Murphy, Barbara Welke, Donna Gabaccia (2), Kay Reyerson, Elaine Tyler May

    It has been a season for great honors and accomplishments for our faculty. Congratulations to all!

    Donna Gabaccia is one of the recipients of the 2013 University Outstanding Community Service Award
    Donna Gabaccia has been awarded the Theodore Saloutos Memorial Book Award of the Immigration and Ethnic History Society for Foreign Relations: American Immigration in Global Perspective.
    Elaine Tyler May has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for 2013 by The John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.
    Kevin Murphy is a 2013 recipient of the UofM's Award for Outstanding Contributions to Postbaccalaureate, Graduate, and Professional Education.
    Kay Reyerson has been awarded the Robert L. Kindrick-CARA Award for Outstanding Service to Medieval Studies by the Medieval Academy.
    Barbara Welke has been named one of the new Distinguished McKnight University Professors.

    April 3rd, 2013

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