Martha A. Sandweiss is professor of history at Princeton University. She received her Ph.D. in history from Yale University and began her career as a photography curator at the Amon Carter Museum in Ft. Worth, Texas. She later taught American studies and history at Amherst College for twenty years.
The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Beinecke Library at Yale University, Sandweiss is the author or editor of numerous books on American history and photography. Her publications include Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line (2009), and Print the Legend: Photography and the American West (2002), winner of the Organization of American Historians' Ray Allen Billington Award for the best book in American frontier history and the William P. Clements Award. Her other works include Laura Gilpin: An Enduring Grace, winner of the George Wittenborn Award for outstanding art book of 1987, and the co-edited volume The Oxford History of the American West (1994), recipient of the Western Heritage Award and the Caughey Western History Association prize for the year's outstanding book in western history.
Sandweiss serves on the governing boards of the Organization of American Historians and the American Antiquarian Society and consults broadly on issues relating to the use of visual images for historical research and teaching.
This biography was last updated on 01/16/2014.
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A Conversation with Martha Sandweiss
about Passing Strange
What drew you to the story of Clarence King?
Many years ago, in graduate school, I read a marvelous biography of King, one of the great heroes of western exploration. The author devoted only about five pages of this five hundred page book, however, to a discussion of King's relationship with an African American woman named Ada. It struck me that a thirteen-year relationship that produced five children deserved more attention than that, even if it was a secret life that would be difficult to uncover. In our celebrity-obsessed world, public figures find it very difficult to have truly private lives. I decided to return to the story of Clarence King because I was curious to learn more about his secret life, but also because I was curious to figure out why it was so much easier for public figures to maintain their privacy in the late nineteenth century.
What turned out to be the most surprising aspects of King's life for you?
I uncovered the fact of King's racial passing the very first day I turned to this project. No one had ever considered the possibility that this fair-haired, blue-eyed man might have represented himself as a person ...
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