Laurel Shire

- Associate Professor
- Co-Director, Program in American Studies at Western


Telephone: 519-661-2111 ext. 84991
Office: Lawson Hall 2226
Office Hours:
Tuesdays 1:00- 3:00pm

Research Interests

Professor Shire is a social and cultural historian whose research focuses on the United States in the nineteenth century, especially the relationship between race, gender, and U.S. expansion. Her research connects scholarship on North American borderlands, Western and Southern U.S. history, the Atlantic world, Native and African American studies, and women’s history.

Teaching Philosophy

I have a long-standing love of social and cultural history, and enjoy teaching all aspects of the American past that touch on the ways that people, especially women, shaped it. I want students to engage with historical content as well as criticism, and to immerse themselves occasionally in the culture of the past. I strive to be an accessible and compassionate teacher while also maintaining high expectations. I believe that passionate and imaginative teaching encourages students not only to engage with history but also to develop stronger research and writing skills. All of my undergraduate courses address historiography and teach students how to locate and analyze primary sources. I also support student development as solid writers and make myself available to discuss strategies for improvement.

I welcome inquiries from prospective graduate students. I am happy to supervise MA and PhD students interested in US social and cultural history in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly those interested in race, gender, or settler colonialism. I am currently supervising PhD students Carla Joubert and Erin Brown. In the past, I've supervised History and American Studies MA students on a wide variety of US topics. I have also directed doctoral comprehensive exams in U.S. history. Please note that I will be on sabbatical in 2019-2020.

Major Research Projects

Dr. Shire published a new book in August 2016! The Threshold of Manifest Destiny: Gender and National Expansion in Florida argues that American political leaders leveraged gender norms – not only masculinity but also femininity – in order to Americanize Florida, setting a precedent for U.S. policy in many subsequent frontier zones further West. They used white women’s presence in Florida to justify violence against Seminole peoples and to rationalize generous social policies for white settler families, many of them slaveholders. At the same time, they relied on white women’s material, domestic and reproductive labor to create homes and families there; the building blocks of permanent colonial settlement. In short, white women were indispensable to the process of settling Florida for the U.S., a process that displaced both Indigenous people and enslaved people of African descent.

Prof. Shire’s next project is about women and migration in the 19th century. She is broadly interested in how imperial and national borders shaped the lives of women in North America and the Caribbean, and also in how women’s experiences of race (privilege, enslavement, and displacement) or gender (subordination, widowhood, motherhood) may have transcended territorial limits, or served to expand or penetrate borders. In many ways, their diversity challenges and even explodes the very category of “woman” and reveals how the intersections of gender, race, nation, and borders continually remade social categories and opportunities. This project is shaping up to be a combination of microhistorical biography and macrohistorical context using digital methods in mapping and text analysis.

She also has plans for two other volumes. One is a collection of “Indian Depredation Narratives” to use as primary sources in teaching the history of U.S. expansion. The second is a study of women and work in early Baltimore centered on the household of Mary Pickersgill (the woman credited with creating the Star-Spangled Banner), who lived in Philadelphia and Baltimore in the late 1700s and early 1800s. It will follow the lives of all the women who lived in Pickersgill’s household between 1807 and 1857, including her daughter and nieces, white apprentices, free black and enslaved women.

Selected Publications


The Threshold of Manifest Destiny: Gender and National Expansion in Florida, Early American Studies series, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. Please read interview here.

This book won the 2017 Mary Kelley Prize from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, honoring the best book published on the history of women, gender, or sexuality in the Early American Republic. It also received the 2018 Rembert Patrick Award for the best scholarly book on a Florida history topic from the Florida Historical Society.

Book Chapters:

“Armed Occupiers and Slaveholding Pioneers: Mapping White Settler Colonialism in Florida in Jimmy L. Bryan, Ed., Inventing Destiny: Cultural Explorations of U.S. Expansion(University Press of Kansas, forthcoming in fall 2019). 

Refereed Journal Articles:

“Sympathetic Paternalism and Sentimental Racism: Feeling Like a Jacksonian,” Journal of the Early Republic symposium on the “Age of Jackson,” Volume 39 (Spring 2019).

 with Joe Knetsch. “Ambivalence in the Settler Colonial Present: The Legacies of Jacksonian Expansion,” invited for Special Issue, “Andrew Jackson at 250” of the Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Vol. LXXVI, No. 3., Fall 2017, 258-275.

"Turning Sufferers into Settlers: Gender, Welfare, and National Expansion in Frontier Florida," Journal of the Early Republic, Volume 33, No. 3, Fall 2013. 

Clark, Laurel A. “The Rights of a Florida Wife: Slavery, U.S. Expansion and Married Women's Property Law,” The Journal of Women’s History, Volume 22, No. 4, Winter 2010, pp. 39-63. 

Clark, Laurel A. “Beyond the Gay/Straight Split: The Socialist Feminist Community of Baltimore,” National Women’s Studies Association Journal, Volume 19, Number 2, Summer 2007, pp. 1-31 (based on undergraduate thesis).

Book Reviews:

“Book Review, Mark Rifkin, When Did Indians Become Straight? Kinship, the History of Sexuality, and Native Sovereignty,” for the American Historical Association’s CLGBTH Newsletter, forthcoming, Fall 2013. 

Clark, Laurel A. “Book Review: Lisa Duggan, ‘Sapphic Slashers: Sex, Violence, and American Modernity’” in American Studies International, June 2002, Vol. XL, No. 2: 98-99.