Joanne B. Freeman, Professor of History and American Studies at Yale University, specializes in early American politics and political culture. Her interest in political violence and political polarization—dirty, nasty, politics—has made her work particularly relevant in recent years.
Freeman’s award-winning first book—Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic (Yale University Press, 2001)—explored political combat on the national stage in the Founding era. Her forthcoming book (coming this September from Farrar, Straus and Giroux!)—The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War—focuses on physically violent clashes in the House and Senate chambers, and how they shaped and savaged the nation.
Freeman has long been committed to public-minded history. Co-host of the popular American history podcast BackStory, Freeman is a frequent public speaker, commentator, and historical consultant whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Atlantic Magazine, among others; she has been featured in documentaries on PBS and the History Channel, and been a political commentator on CNN and MSNBC. Her Yale online course, The American Revolution, has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people in homes and classrooms around the world.
Freeman was elected to the Society of American Historians in 2010 and the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2015. Board of Trustees or Advisory Board memberships include the Library of America, the National Council for History Education, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, and the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies. She is also a Distinguished Lecturer of the Organization of American Historians.
Freeman has received numerous awards and fellowships. In 2007-08, she was a fellow at the New York Public Library Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, and a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies. In 2017, Yale University awarded her the William Clyde DeVane Teaching Award; one year later, Yale awarded her the Sidonie Miskimim Clauss '75 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities.
I'm passionate about the study of politics, culture, and political culture in early America. Two of my books delve into these topics by exploring the ground-level political practices of political power-holders: how democratic contingencies shaped their actions; how they did—or didn't—abide by public opinion; the rules by which they played the political game; and how all of these things were being explored and manipulated in the American republic's early decades. Political violence was woven into all of these practices, and it had a logic that requires decoding—a big interest of mine. Along similar lines, I'm fascinated by the ways in which powerful emotions shaped politics, even at the highest levels. The Field of Blood gave me the chance to explore this idea at length for the first time.
I'm also a leading expert on Alexander Hamilton—and have been for several decades. I was the lead consultant in the renovation and reinterpretation of Hamilton's home in Harlem, The Grange. But until the publication of Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton and the launch of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton: An American Musical, few people knew why Hamilton was important. After reading (and re-reading, and RE-reading) the 27 volumes of Hamilton's collected papers since the age of 14, it's stunning—and strange—so see such widespread interest in what was long a private interest of mine. As a result, I've been teaching, lecturing, commentating, and consulting my heart out, and enjoying every bit of it. I'm currently the historical consultant for Hamilton: The Exhibition, a multi-media exploration of Hamilton and his times that will open in Chicago in 2019. Miranda used my first two books—Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic, and Alexander Hamilton: Writings—while writing Hamilton; a bit of my first book appears in the song "Ten Duel Commandments."