Photo credit: Rhonda Cosentino at University of Memphis

Photo credit: Rhonda Cosentino at University of Memphis

I am a historian of gender, sexuality, and family in the twentieth-century United States. I have been teaching at the University of Memphis since 2008. I am also the Director of the Marcus Orr Center for the Humanities. I received a PhD in history from the University of Chicago in 2008  and a BA in history from Columbia University in 1999.

My research focuses on the politics of marriage and family. My first book, Everybody Else: Adoption and the Politics of Domestic Diversity in Postwar America (University of Georgia Press, 2014), uses adoption as a lens into how diverse men and women thought about marriage and parenthood during the post-World War II baby boom. In the book, I analyze the adoption applications of diverse couples — African American and white, working- and middle-class — who wanted to adopt children. These men and women were forced to explain what many never had to: why they wanted to become parents and how they believed a child would add to their family. Applicants described their families as essential to their sense of purpose and meaning in their everyday lives, but they also depicted them as sites where they felt acutely both the comforts of privilege and the stings of inequality. I suggest that, although we usually think of the baby boom family as an apolitical retreat from Cold War anxieties, instead it was intimately connected in the minds of ordinary people to larger political questions about race, gender, and economic inequality. Please click on the Publications tab for more information or to purchase the book.

I am currently working on a new book manuscript, tentatively entitled Your Cheating Heart: Adultery in the Age of Feminism and the New Right, which examines the emergence of a strong public interest in adultery during the culture wars of the late twentieth century. Affairs that would have once been overlooked, such as those of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, now turn into the media circus faced by everyone from Bill Clinton to Mark Sanford to David Petraeus. Likewise, polling suggests that Americans frown upon adultery now more than we did four decades ago. We now live in a media and social landscape where talk about cheating, if not cheating itself, is pervasive. By examining the ways feminists, conservatives, religious authorities, magazines, and even TV news talked about adultery during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, Your Cheating Heart seeks to understand this change in our ideas about adultery in the context of the country’s rapidly shifting political climate.

I live in Memphis, TN, with my husband and a very spoiled dachshund.

Download my CV here: PotterCVcurrent

Contact me:
Sarah Potter
Associate Professor of History
University of Memphis
Department of History
Memphis, TN 38152
spotter1 [at] memphis . edu