Jennifer W. Reiss

Reiss Headshot

Ph.D. Candidate

D.C. Alumni Graduate Fellow, 2023-2024

Jennifer W. Reiss is a Ph.D. candidate working on the North Atlantic in the long eighteenth century. She is particularly interested in women and gender, early modern medicine and disability, and British and early American legal history. Her dissertation project, provisionally titled Undone Bodies: Women and Disability in Early America, combines these themes by exploring the relationship between womanhood (with its attendant social and legal disabilities) and corporeal disability in eighteenth-century British North America and the early Republic. 

Jenny’s research is being supported by fellowships from the the American Philosophical Society, the American Antiquarian Society, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium, and the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, as well as multiple competitive research awards and fellowships from Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) and University’s Provost’s Office. 

In addition to her research fellowships, Jenny is the recipient a 2024-2025 Marguerite Bartlett Hamer Dissertation Fellowship at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Her commitment to undergraduate teaching has also been recognized with an Inclusive & Equitable Teaching Fellowship from PennCenter for Excellence in Teaching, Learning & Innovation (CETLI) (2023-2024). 

An active participant in the Penn community, she has served as a SAS representative to the University’s Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA) (2023-2024); the graduate representative on the Provost’s Committee on Distinguished Teaching Awards (2023); a graduate student representative on the University Council (2022-2023); a History representative to the SAS Graduate Student Government (SASgov) (2021-2023); the ABD (dissertating student) member on Clio (the History Department’s graduate student board) and chair of the Departments Graduate Handbook Creation Committee (2022-2023); and as co-convener of the Department’s Graduate Colloquium (2021-2022).

Alongside her University and departmental service, she is currently the Managing Editor of All of Us, the blog of the Disability History Association and a member of the Early Career Scholars Committee at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

As an undergraduate, an internship in the Penn Archives led to her B.A. honors thesis, “The Schemes of Public Parties:” Provost Smith, Dr. Franklin and the Struggle for Control of the University of Pennsylvania, which questioned the Universitys hagiographic elevation of Benjamin Franklin in light of evidence he worked to undermine the institution in its early years. Her M.Phil. dissertation, entitled By My Own Experience:” Women, Medicine and Knowledge in the Eighteenth Century Anglo-Atlantic World, looked at eighteenth-century female-led domestic medical practice in the context of globalization, Enlightenment learning, and ideas of authority in the British Atlantic.

Jennys first research project in the Ph.D. program,“Pity That So Fine a Man Should Have Lost His Leg:Gouverneur Morris and the Nuances of Physical Disability in Early America, attempted to understand how Morris, the early American statesman and diplomat, negotiated his multiple physical impairments alongside class and gender expectations in the early Republic. Her second project, Property, Propriety, and Publicity: A Different Look at Pope v. Curll (1741), which built on initial research she conducted as a J.D. / LL.M. student, excavated an early modern discourse of publicity rights (i.e. rights to ones name, image and likeness) from eighteenth-century British copyright litigation. Property, Propriety, and Publicity placed as runner up in the 2023 Morris L. Cohen Essay Competition of the American Association of Law Libraries (Legal History and Rare Books Section). 

Jenny has presented her work at conferences and seminars sponsored by, among others, the Organization of American Historians (which awarded her a 2024 Samuel and Marion Merrill Travel Grant), the Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture, the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, the American Philosophical Society, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, Temple University, the University of Cambridge, and at public history programming sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

In August 2020 Penn Today interviewed her about her research on Gouverneur Morris, the complexities of impairment in the eighteenth century, and how she discovered American history. Jennys work has also been featured in the Washington Post, on Gender Jawn, the podcast of PennCenter for Research in Feminist, Queer, and Transgender Studies, and on The Object of History, the podcast of the Massachusetts Historical Society. 

Prior to embarking on a career in history, Jenny practiced as an attorney in New York and London, including as an associate at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law, where she supervised students in NYU Law’s international human rights clinic, and worked on the Center’s initiatives on corporate human rights abuses and racial profiling. On a pro bono basis, she worked with a Council of Europe legal team on the reorganization of the European Court of Human Rights and has represented asylum seekers in both the U.S. and UK. A former supervising editor of the Harvard Journal on Legislation, she has published articles on human rights law, European law, and intellectual property law, and continues to maintain an interest in the history of human rights and the impact of law on art and culture.

Dissertation Committee: Professors Kathleen M. Brown (primary advisor), Sarah L.H. Gronningsater, Beth Linker (Department of History and Sociology of Science)

Exam Fields:

  • North American History to 1820 (Daniel K. Richter)
  • Gender Theories and Early American Gender and Sexuality (Kathleen M. Brown)
  • History of Anglo-American Law to 1877 (Sarah L.H. Gronningsater)
  • Histories of Disability and Medicine (Beth Linker, Department of History and Sociology of Science)

M.A., History, University of Pennsylvania

M.Phil., American History, with Distinction, University of Cambridge

LL.M., University of Cambridge

J.D., Harvard Law School

B.A., History (with Departmental Honors) and Political Science, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Benjamin Franklin Scholar (University Honors), University of Pennsylvania

Research Interests

Atlantic World; Early America; Early Modern Britain; social history; cultural history; legal history; women and gender; history of medicine; disability history; history of the body; Anglo-American constitutionalism and political culture; legal institutions; history of intellectual property; human rights

Courses Taught

As a Teaching Assistant:

  • HIST0100: Deciphering America (Spring 2023)
  • HIST1110: Hamilton’s America: U.S. History, 1754-1804 (Fall 2022)
  • HIST108: American Origins (Spring 2022)
  • HIST133: Free Speech and Censorship (Fall 2021)
  • HIST168/AFRC168: History of American Law to 1877 (Spring 2021)
  • HIST161/ECON014: American Capitalism (Fall 2020)

2023-2024 Graduate Fellow for Inclusive & Equitable Teaching, CETLI

Completed Penn’s Certificate Program in College and University Teaching (2021), as well as additional non-credit courses in College Teaching and Inclusive & Equitable Teaching (CETLI; Summer 2021 and Fall 2022, respectively)

Selected Publications
  • New York State Bar
  • McNeil Center for Early American Studies
  • Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture
  • Society for Historians of the Early American Republic 
  • American Society for Legal History
  • Disability History Association