Karen Halttunen

Karen Halttunen

Fellow: Awarded 2009
Field of Study: United States History

Competition: US & Canada

University of Southern California

Karen Halttunen is a Professor of History and American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, a position she has held since 2004. Her research specialties are Early American history and nineteenth-century cultural and intellectual history. Previously she was a Professor of History at Northwestern University (1979-91) and the University of California, Davis (1991-2004).

Ms. Halttunen received a B.A. in history and religious studies from Brown University in 1973, and a Ph.D. in cultural history from Yale in 1979. While still a graduate student, the Journal of American Studies (vol. 12, 1978) published her first article, “Cotton Mather and the Meaning of Suffering in the Magnalia Christi Americana.” Supported by a Whiting Fellowship and a Prize Teaching Fellowship, she wrote her dissertation on middle-class formation in the antebellum United States. It was awarded Yale’s Field Prize and published as Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America, 1830-1870 by Yale University Press.

Supported by an NEH Fellowship for Independent Research, Ms. Haltunnen next turned her attention to a study of the changing perception of human evil as seen in the writings of generations of three of the most prominent families of literati in nineteenth-century America—the Jameses, Beechers, and Alcotts—as a window on the Gothic imagination. A Distinguished Senior Fellowship at the UC Davis Humanities Institute, a Senior Fellowship at the National Humanities Center, and a President’s Fellowship in Humanities from the University of California gave her time to further this research and more narrowly focus it to narrative accounts of murders committed in America between 1680 and 1860. This work resulted not only in numerous articles, including “Humanitarianism and the Pornography of Pain in Anglo-American Culture,” published as the lead article in the Spring 1995 issue of American Historical Review, but also in her second monograph, Murder Most Foul: The Killer and the American Gothic Imagination (Harvard UP, 1998), which received honorable mention for the John Hope Franklin Prize from the American Studies Association (ASA). In addition to these volumes, Ms. Halttunen has co-edited, with Lewis Perry, Moral Problems in American Life: New Essays on Cultural History (Cornell UP, 1998), edited A Companion to American Cultural History (Blackwell, 2008), and written about two dozen articles for such important journals as Feminist Studies, New England Quarterly, and American Quarterly.

As evidenced early on by the Award for Outstanding Teaching (1986) she received while at Northwestern, Karen Halttunen is dedicated to fostering students, and those who are instructing them at all levels, from kindergarten through the undergraduate years. While at UC Davis she not only directed several federal Teaching American History grants but also was active in the university’s History Project and in collaborations with K-16 teachers of history. In recognition of her contributions, she was honored with the Consortium for Women and Research’s Outstanding Mentor Award (2001) and the Roland Marchand Memorial Award for Excellence in Service to K-12 Teachers (2003).

She is an Elected Member of the American Antiquarian Society and a Fellow of Columbia University’s Society of American Historians. She served as President of the ASA, and is currently Vice President of that association’s Teaching Division. To honor her, the ASA established the Karen Halttunen K12 Teacher-of-the-Year Award.

During her Guggenheim Fellowship term, Ms. Halttunen will continue her study of landscape and antiquity in nineteenth-century New England, research she began in 1999-2000 as an Andrew Mellon Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at the American Antiquarian Society.


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