Sarah L. H. Gronningsater

Sarah L. H. Gronningsater

Assistant Professor of History

18th- and 19th-century U.S.; political, legal, social, and constitutional history


College Hall 309A

Sarah Gronningsater is a historian of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century United States, with a particular interest in slavery and abolition. She works at the intersections of legal, political, constitutional, and social history. 

Her first book, The Rising Generation: Gradual Abolition, Black Legal Culture, and the Making of National Freedom, will be published in Summer 2024 (University of Pennsylvania Press). The Rising Generation explores the long and legally-oriented transition from slavery to freedom in New York from the first widespread Quaker emancipations in the 1750s to the passage of the Reconstruction Amendments at the close of the Civil War. The book is particularly concerned with the lives, politics, and legal efforts of the “children of gradual abolition”—the generation of black children born into quasi-freedom in the years after the American Revolution.

She is the author of several publications:

  • "James Tallmadge Jr. and the Personal Politics of Antislavery," in A Firebell in the Past: The Missouri Crisis at 200, vol. 1., ed. Jeffrey L. Pasley and John Craig Hammond (University of Missouri, June 2021)
  • "Practicing Formal Politics without the Vote: Black New Yorkers in the Aftermath of 1821," in Revolutions and Reconstructions: Black Politics in the Long Nineteenth Century, ed. Van E. Gosse and David Waldstreicher (Penn Press, 2020)
  • "'Expressly Recognized by Our Election Laws': Certificates of Freedom and the Multiple Fates of Black Citizenship in the Early Republic," William and Mary Quarterly (July 2018)
  • "'On Behalf of His Race and the Lemmon Slaves': Louis Napoleon, Northern Black Legal Culture, and the Politics of Sectional Crisis," Journal of the Civil War Era (June 2017), awarded the 2017 George and Ann Richards Prize.
  • "Born Free in the Master's House: Children and Gradual Emancipation in the Early American North," in Child Slavery before and after Emancipation (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

She is increasingly interested in how ordinary citizens petitioned for rights and resources in the long nineteenth century, as well as how people on the ground utilized and transformed democratic practices in their everyday lives in the early republic.

Gronningsater has received a number of prizes and fellowships. In 2015, she received two dissertation awards: the Manuscript Prize from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic and the Cromwell Dissertation Prize from the American Society for Legal History. She also received the 2012 Kathryn T. Preyer Scholar Award from the American Society for Legal History and the 2010 Memphis State Eight Best Paper Prize from the Graduate Association of African American History. She was the recipient of the Hanna Holborn Gray Advanced Fellowship at the University of Chicago from 2014 to 2016. From 2014 to 2016, she was a Barra Postdoctoral Fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2017-2018, she was an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow at the New-York Historical Society. 

Gronningsater loves teaching both undergraduate and graduate students. She offers courses in early American history, the long nineteenth century, the American Revolution, slavery and abolition in the Atlantic World, the politics of reform movements, legal and constitutional history, the Civil War, women’s history, and the history of American baseball. 

In 2020, she was awarded the Richard S. Dunn Award for Distinguished Teaching. In 2023, she was awarded the Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching by an Assistant Professor and the Penn Friars Senior Society Faculty Award. 

She received an A.B. from Harvard University, an M.St. from the University of Oxford, and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. 

Office Hours
Tuesdays and Thursdays, Noon to 1pm

Ph.D. University of Chicago

M.St. University of Oxford

A.B. Harvard University