Office Hours: by appointment
Ph.D, Harvard University
Teaching and Research Interests
Gender and Sexuality, 19th- and 20th-century America
Eva Payne is a historian of the 19th- and 20th-century U.S. with a focus on women, gender, and sexuality and the U.S. in transnational perspective. She received a BA from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, an MDiv from Harvard Divinity School, and a PhD in American Studies from Harvard University.
Her current book project, Purity and Power: Americans and the International Crusade Against Sexual Vice, 1870–1937 shows how American reformers transformed sexual vice into an international political and humanitarian concern. As they worked to eradicate prostitution and trafficking, they promoted sexual self-control for both men and women as the cornerstone of civilization and the basis of American exceptionalism. The book argues that the fight against sexual vice was a crucial way Americans sought to remake other nations in their image and enhance US global standing in an imperial age. Reformers argued that their vision of civilized sexual morality was a precondition for modern nationhood and democracy. They successfully pushed for international agreements that mirrored US laws, calling for states to criminalize prostitution and restrict migration, all in the name of protecting women. At the same time, the project attends to the experiences of the women whom reformers claimed to rescue. Their words defy the dichotomies that shaped reformers’ vision: choice and coercion, free and unfree labor, white sexual innocence and the assumed depravity of people of color.
Payne’s recent article “Deportation as Rescue: White Slaves, Women Reformers, and the US Bureau of Immigration,” in the Journal of Women’s History examines how well-known reformer Kate Waller Barrett reconfigured deportation as a protective rather than a punitive act in the early twentieth century. In doing so, she expanded the authority of white maternalist women’s organizations to police poor migrant women and women of color domestically, and to pursue US government interests in the international arena.
Payne is also engaged in a number of public history projects. She has worked on exhibitions of art and historical objects at museums and galleries, including the Harvard Art Museum and the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. At the University of Mississippi, she is co-director of the Invisible Histories Project – Mississippi, a Mellon Foundation-funded project that documents and preserves Mississippi’s LGBTQ+ history through oral histories and archival collecting.