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Kupperman, Karen Ordahl (1939–) - Colonial English American History

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Karen Ordahl Kupperman was born on April 23, 1939, in Devils Lake, North Dakota, of Swedish and Norwegian ancestry. Her mother was principally a homemaker; her father was a colonel in the United States Army. Kupperman attended elementary school in Fort Benning, Georgia, and then in Fargo, North Dakota. She attended junior high school in Fargo and then in U.S. Army schools in Japan, and high school in Springfield, Missouri. Her favorite childhood books were a boxed set of Grimm’s and Andersen’s fairy tales, and she loved them because of the distant worlds they recreated. Karen’s most important early influence, though, was the experience of living in different parts of the country during World War II and again in her teenage years. When she was twelve, her father’s national guard regiment was called up and sent to the southeast corner of Alabama, a place, she recalls, “that was about as different culturally from North Dakota as possible within the United States.” Much shocked and surprised her, and the young Karen became interested in different historical experiences of regions of the United States. The year she spent in Japan when she was fourteen also gave her firsthand experience in cultural difference and insights into the ways culture is constructed.

Karen Kupperman attended the University of Missouri, earning a bachelor’s degree in history in 1961. History has always been her favorite subject. After college she went to Harvard on a Woodrow Wilson fellowship, but like many women she felt stifled by the academic atmosphere and left after earning a master’s degree there in 1962. “When my children were young,” she writes, “I began teaching as an adjunct at the University of Connecticut, and realized that my real interest lay in teaching and writing history. Therefore my husband and children and I went to Cambridge for two years, which is the required residency for the Ph.D.” Kupperman completed the Ph.D. at Cambridge in 1978.

Following her completion of the doctorate, Kupperman accepted a position at the University of Connecticut. From 1980 to 1981, she was a Mellon Faculty Fellow at Harvard University. She stayed at the University of Connecticut until 1995, when she was named professor of history at New York University. For the academic year 1995–96, however, she is the Times-Mirror Foundation Professor at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.

The author of four monographs, editor of four books, and co-author of an American history textbook, Kupperman is perhaps best known for her award-winning work, Providence Island, 1630–1641: The Other Puritan Colony , winner of the 1995 Albert J. Beveridge Award of the American Historical Association for the best book in American history, including Canada and Latin America, published in 1993. Hilary Beckles writes that this work, an examination of Puritan efforts in the West Indies, “makes a seminal contribution to early West Indian economic and social history.” One of Kupperman’s nearly twenty scholarly articles, “Apathy and Death in Early Jamestown,” won the Binkley-Stephenson Award of the Organization of American Historians for the best article in the Journal of American History in 1979. Her most recent project, under contract with Cornell University Press, is a new edition of Settling with the Indians , a 1990 publication rewritten in the light of the literature on encounters generated by the Columbian Quincentennial.

Kupperman’s first fellowship was a dissertation fellowship from the American Association of University Women, and she has since been a fellow of the American Philosophical Society, the National Humanities Center, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. She was elected to membership in the American Antiquarian Society and the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. Kupperman has also been named Distinguished Alumna for the University of Missouri.

Karen Kupperman has provided a great deal of service to the profession. She currently serves on the nominating committee for the American Historical Association and has served as chair and council member for the Council of the Institute of Early American History and Culture, as the chair of the board of editors and member of the editorial board of William and Mary Quarterly , as co-chair of the New England Seminar in American History, on the board of editors of Virginia Magazine of History and Biography , and on the committee of publications for the American Antiquarian Society.

Karen Ordahl Kupperman is married to Joel Kupperman, professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut. They have two sons, Michael Joel and Charles Anders Kupperman. Her interests outside of work include walking and hiking.


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