Sarah E. Igo, 36
Assistant Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania, 2001-present.
Area of Research: Modern American cultural, intellectual, and political history
Education: Ph.D. in History, Princeton University, November 2001.
Major Publications: Igo is author of The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, January 2007), which has received press attention in venues such as the New York Times, National Public Radio, C-SPAN's Book TV, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, New York Sun, Atlantic Monthly, Democracy Journal, and Reason Magazine. Igo is currently working on a book, tentatively entitled The Known Citizen, charting the recent cultural history of privacy, examined through legal debates, technological innovations, professional codes, and recastings of familial and domestic life.
Awards: Igo is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
President's Book Award, Social Science History Association, for an"especially meritorious" first book, 2006;
Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University, Visiting Fellow, 2006-2007;
Thornbrough Award, for the best article of the year in the Indiana Magazine of History, 2005;
John C. Burnham Early Career Award, jointly awarded by the Forum for the History of Human Science and the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 2004;
Institute for Advanced Study (School of Social Science), Member, 2004-2005;
American Council of Learned Societies, Andrew W. Mellon Junior Faculty Fellowship, 2004-2005;
Trustee's Council of Penn Women, Summer Faculty Research Fellowship, 2004;
Dissertation Prize, Forum for the History of Human Science, 2004;
Richard S. Dunn Award for Distinguished Teaching, University of Pennsylvania, 2003;
National Young Faculty Leaders Forum, Invited Member, Harvard University, 2002-present;
Princeton Society of Fellows of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, Dissertation Fellowship, 1999-2001;
Whiting Foundation in the Humanities, Dissertation Fellowship, 1999-2000;
University Center for Human Values, Graduate Prize Fellowship, 1999-2000;
Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, Summer Grant, 1998, 1999, 2000;
Davis Merit Prize, Princeton University Department of History, 1995-1997;
Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities, Graduate Fellowship, 1995-1996;
Class Marshal, Harvard College, 1991;
John Harvard Award, Academic Achievement of Highest Distinction, Harvard College, 1990-1991.
Formerly Instructor in History and Social Science, Phillips Academy, Andover, 1992-1995.
Igo has also worked as a Historical Consultant for"U.S. Politics, 1980-2000," for CBS News/Schlessinger Media, 2001, and"The First Measured Century: One Hundred Years of Social Science," Public Broadcasting Service, 2000.
In graduate school I often envied my fellow students, who spent years at a stretch in Berlin, Shanghai, or Mombasa, soaking up other cultures, cuisines, and landscapes alongside their work in the archives. As an Americanist, I had no such luck. In fact, my research wound up taking me to what some might consider the most mundane of locations: the U.S. Midwest.
During my travels in America's"heartland," however, I had some of my most wonderful experiences as an historian. In Bloomington, Indiana, where I was reading Alfred Kinsey's correspondence (in an adults-only archive where most researchers were flipping not through dusty letters but 1920s German porn magazines and the like!), an archivist took the time to take me on a tour of the college town's used book stores, and to share her stories about working in an institute named for one of the more controversial scientists of the twentieth century. In Muncie, Indiana—a community better known as"Middletown" via Helen and Robert Lynd's social surveys of 1929 and 1937—I got to stroll the streets of a city that most Americans know only through a classic sociological text, and to see firsthand how that survey still colored locals' sense of their history seventy years later. I'll never forget the generosity of one of the archivists there, who not only tracked down all kinds of sources for me, but tracked me down, the night before I left town, at the house where I was staying, in order to hand over one last sheaf of materials.
The charm of the seemingly mundane has turned out to be a theme of my career thus far. How certain ideas, conventions, categories, languages, and ways of knowing became matter-of-fact aspects of American culture has been, for me, a persistent source of fascination. Trained as an intellectual and cultural historian, I've been most fascinated by what"ordinary," anonymous people believe: how they come to their frameworks for understanding the social world, and why those frameworks change. Indeed, this led me in my first book to examine the political and epistemological authority of the"average,""typical," and"normal" in the mid-twentieth-century United States. In this case, by looking at citizens' arguments over statistical information about"ourselves" in the public sphere, I hoped to get as close as possible to everyday styles of thinking that were undergoing challenge from social scientific modes of inquiry.
Such broad shifts in imagination and perception, or what I sometimes call popular intellectual history, also animate my current book project on modern privacy, in which I aim to track the changing status of"what's public" and"what's private" from the perspective not of legal authorities or the state, but (dare I say it) of"average" citizens. As I tell my students at Penn (some of whom are at first skeptical about the value of cultural history), ideas that are widely shared—and assumed or believed without being articulated directly—are extremely powerful. They form the structures of conviction that underlie the"harder stuff" of history: actions, laws, and events. In other words, the mundane carries a deep significance for those who choose to look at it.
By Sarah E. Igo
About Sarah E. Igo
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