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Sean Trainor

Graduate Student

Office: 115 Pond Laboratory
Mailing: 108 Weaver Building
Penn State University

University Park , PA 16802

Curriculum Vitae

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  1. Doctoral Candidate in Dual-title Women's Studies & History Program
  2. MA, Pennsylvania State University, 2011
  3. BA, The George Washington University, 2007


I am an historian of gender, labor, popular culture, and the body in the early American republic. My dissertation – entitled Hair: A History of Men’s Grooming in the Urban United States – examines the practices of shaving, hair-cutting, and beard-wearing, as well as the use of hair tonics, restoratives, and dyes between 1800 and 1865. The project explores the rise of the American beard and other mid-century men’s hairstyles, detailing their role in popularizing new ideas about manhood. These ideas – born of heated conflicts between trend-setting white elites and the barbers, razor-makers, and peddlers who made grooming possible – helped place American men on the path of overseas empire and civil war. They also remade manhood as an expression of the male body rather than an expression of men’s behavior. While previous scholarship has located this shift in the political struggles surrounding Gilded Age imperialism and the rise of Jim Crow, Hair situates the origins of ‘natural manhood’ in the antebellum expansion of consumer capitalism and its transformation of everyday life.

My work has appeared in Early American Studies, The Atlantic, The Appendix, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, and on The Junto blog. I’ve held fellowships from the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the American Antiquarian Society, the Library Company of Philadelphia, and the Filson Historical Society. And I’ve been invited to discuss the history of men’s grooming with Backstory radio, New Hampshire Public Radio, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. In addition, I have taught courses on the Civil War and Reconstruction, modern American history, and the labor history of the United States – both in-person and online – and have served as a teaching assistant for a variety of courses ranging from introductory-level U.S. history surveys to modern European history. My additional research interests include ‘bearded ladies,’ popular celebrity, phrenology and other popular (or ‘pseudo-‘) sciences, as well as quantitative history and methodologies. You can find me on Twitter at @ess_trainor.

Recent Publications:

“Fair Bosom/Black Beard: Facial Hair, Gender Determination, and the Strange Career of Madame Clofullia, ‘Bearded Lady,’” Early American Studies 12 (Fall 2014), 548-575.

Interview with Ed Ayers, “American Apparel,” Backstory with the American History Guys (Broadcast / Podcast), July 25, 2014.

“The Beard That Wasn’t: Abe Lincoln’s Whiskers,” The Appendix (online edition), April 8, 2014.

“The Racially Fraught History of the American Beard,” The Atlantic (online edition), January 20, 2014.

Awards and Service:

McNeil Center Consortium Dissertation Fellowship, McNeil Center for Early American Studies, University of Pennsylvania (2013-2014)
Kate B. and Hall J. Peterson Short-Term Fellowship, American Antiquarian Society (2013)
Filson Short-Term Fellowship, The Filson Historical Society (2013)
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Short-Term Fellowship, Library Company of Philadelphia (2012)

Recent Courses

History 021 – The History of American Civilization Since 1877
History 130 – Introduction to the Civil War and Reconstruction, 1848-1877


19th Century US


Hair: A History of Men's Grooming in the Urban United States, 1800-1865

Research Interests:

Cultural History, Body History, Gender and Sexuality, Class and Capitalism, Early American Republic, Urban History, Fashion and Appearance, Popular Science, Consumer Culture.
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