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Broadly stated, my current research involves an investigation into historical impacts of new technologies on practical aspects of the law.

I am interested in broad questions like whether societal ideals and conceptions drive both the law and technology, or if technology drives the law and societal expectations, or if there is some other factor at play. While primarily a historical investigation, these questions have applicability to the contemporary world, e.g., to issues of Internet privacy, wiretapping, vaccination, contraception, and abortion.

“What will become of the domestic hearth?”: Impacts of Technology on the Development of Privacy Law in the United States, ca. 1792-1972

The underlying theme of my dissertation is that, in contrast to Europe, fundamental privacy protections in the U.S. have only been achieved when (1) government is involved and (2) the domestic home is threatened. I focus particularly on the rhetoric of the “sacred” domestic home (especially the Victorian ideology of separate spheres, which problematically divided the world into the profane and public sphere of men and the sacred and private sphere of women).

In terms of technology, I cover the postal service, telegraphy, telephony and wiretaps, smallpox vaccination and quarantine, sterilization (and eugenics), and contraception.

I am drawing on the amazing work of many, many other scholars, in all kinds of fields, from contemporary legal studies to feminist scholarship to STS/Science Studies and history of science.

Preliminary defense date is Fall 2018.

Why focus on law?

For me, an analysis of the law provides an effective look back at the ways in which theoretical and practical concerns of the day were mediated, contained, implemented, and even ignored. There are few other mechanisms in American society quite like the court system. Judges and juries, when faced with particular cases and controversies, do not have the luxury of simply ignoring a problem because it is too difficult. Instead, they take legal theory and ideals and them into practical effect.