Kathy Peiss

Kathy Peiss

Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor Emerita of American History

20th century U.S.; women, gender, and sexuality; cultural history

215 898.2746

Kathy Peiss is the Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor Emerita of American History at Penn, where she taught courses on modern American cultural history and the history of American sexuality, women, and gender.  Her research has examined the history of working women; working-class and interracial sexuality; leisure, style, and popular culture; the beauty industry in the U.S. and abroad; and libraries, information, and American cultural policy during World War II.  She has been particularly interested in the ways that culture shapes the everyday lives and popular beliefs of Americans across time.

Peiss is the author of Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York (1986) and Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture (1998), which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and named one of Amazon's 1999 top ten books in Women's Studies.  Her book Zoot Suit: The Enigmatic Career of an Extreme Style (2011), received the 2012 Millia Davenport Publication Award of the Costume Society of America.  Other publications include Passion and Power: Sexuality in History, co-edited with Christina Simmons (1989); Men and Women: A History of Gender, Costume, and Power, co-authored with Barbara Clark Smith in conjunction with a Smithsonian Institution exhibit (1989); Love Across the Color Line: The Letters of Alice Hanley to Channing Lewis, co-edited with Helen Horowitz (1996); Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality (2001); and articles in Daedalus, Library Trends, Business History ReviewEnterprise and Society, GendersAmerican Literary History, and Social Problems.

Her recent book, Information Hunters: When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe (Oxford University Press, 2020) explores the uses and meaning of print culture in a time of war and devastation. Originating in the hidden story of a family member, Information Hunters reveals the efforts of American librarians, scholars, and archivists to find and preserve books and documents for national security, military planning, and postwar reconstruction. Working with the military and intelligence agencies, they fostered new approaches to information, pushed for the internationalization of American book collections, and played key roles in the denazification and restitution of book collections after the war.  Information Hunters received the 2021 DeLong Book History Book Prize from the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing (SHARP).

Peiss has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, NEH, ACLS, Smithsonian Institution, Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.  She is a Fellow of the Society of American Historians and served on the Society’s Executive Board.  She has also lectured at the University of Sydney as a Fulbright Senior Specialist.  In addition to writing and teaching, she has served as a consultant to museums, archives, and public history projects, and appeared in the documentary films New York and Miss America.

At Penn, Peiss served as Chair of the History Department from 2008 to 2011.  She is a member of the affiliated faculty of the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program and the graduate group in the Department of History and Sociology of Science.  She has been honored to receive the Ira H. Abrams Memorial Award for Distinguished Teaching for Faculty in the School of Arts and Sciences in 2013, and the Richard S. Dunn Award for Distinguished Teaching, awarded by the History Undergraduate Advisory Board, in 2021.



The Information Hunters: The Modern Scholar Podcast (2024)

"Pleasure and Danger: The Life of a Feminist Paradigm" (2021), History Speaking, UPenn

"Information Hunters" book talk, (2020), George C. Marshall Foundation 

"Civilians and World War II Intelligence Gathering," (2020), National Archives/CSPAN

“Libraries During World War II” (2015), CSPAN

“Fashion Riot” (2015), BackStory

“Extremely Stylish: The Zoot Suit” (2011), Soundcheck/WNYC


Courses Taught
  • HIST163 Modern American Culture
  • HIST 204 Culture and Crisis
  • HIST 204 Politics of Cultural Heritage
  • HIST 204 Books That Changed Modern America
  • HIST 346 U.S. Women's History 1865 to Present
  • HIST 347 Gender History and American Film
  • HIST 349 History of Sexuality in the U.S.
  • HIST 398/400 History Honors
  • HIST 610 Consumer Culture in Historic Perspective
  • HIST 610 19th- and 20th- Century American Cultural History
  • HIST 610 Gender and Sexuality in Modern American History
  • HIST 610 20th Century U.S. Historiography
  • HIST 700 Introduction to the Graduate Study of History