Karen Kupperman's Teaching and Research Interests
Karen Ordahl Kupperman's scholarship focuses on the Atlantic world in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, particularly contacts and ventures between Europe and North America and the Caribbean. One part of her work deals with the ways English promoters and settlers wrote about the American Indians, and the ways that both Indians and English tried to interpret the other and to incorporate unprecedented opportunities and challenges. All parties to new relationships tried to fit the others into their own understanding of human nature and society, and to manipulate unprecedented situations in terms of that understanding. Another major theme in her work is the difficulties colonial leaders faced in trying to create orderly, functioning societies in America. Colonial founders discovered that none of their assumptions about how to create societies was realistic in the absence of the kinds of sanctions that shaped behavior in Europe. These difficulties forced them to think deeply about how society actually works, and about what might be distinctive about English society. Innovative solutions emerged and distinctive forms were created as a result. A third thread of her research deals with the American environment and its impact on early European migrants. The climate in America was far different from their expectations and this posed intellectual and physical problems. For one thing, America's east coast was much colder than comparable latitudes in western Europe's maritime climate and reporters therefore had to explain why New York, for example, is so cold despite being so far south of London. This problem was exacerbated by the severe Little Ice Age conditions that prevailed in the colonial period, and these conditions transformed life for Indians as well as newcomers. Early theories about the human relationship to the environment began to emerge. Kupperman's present research is an attempt to reconstruct the climate of the Little Ice Age in America and to analyze Europeans' attempts to make sense of the climatic phenomena they encountered, especially as they competed with Indian leaders for control of the natural world.
Karen Ordahl Kupperman's teaching focuses on the early modern Atlantic world, particularly the efforts of Europeans to establish colonies in North America and in the Caribbean. She regularly teaches courses in colonial America, broadly conceived, at both the undergraduate and graduate level. She also teaches American Indians in early American History, which deals primarily with the ways in which American Indians interacted with Europeans from the beginnings of the fishing and fur trades through the period of Indian Removal in the early nineteenth century. These courses all rely heavily on primary sources, documents written during the period by participants, and call on students to function as historians. Students are encouraged to take an analytical approach and to enter into the currents of the period under discussion. At the graduate level Kupperman also teaches research courses that focus on the Atlantic world.