Robin Bernstein

Robin Bernstein

Dillon Professor of American History
Professor of African and African American Studies and of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality
Robin Bernstein 2014 photo credit Kate McCann

Robin Bernstein is a cultural historian who writes about two subjects: theatre/performance and childhood. Sometimes she studies these topics together; other times she studies them separately.  Her goal, always, is to think through performance and childhood to produce new knowledge about US cultural history, and particularly American formations of race, from the nineteenth century to the present.

Bernstein is the Dillon Professor of American History and Professor of African and African American Studies and of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality and at Harvard University. She currently chairs the Program of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard.  She is also a faculty member in Harvard's doctoral program in American Studies and undergraduate program in Theater, Dance, and Media.   With Stephanie Batiste and Brian Herrera, She edits the book series Performance and American Cultures for New York University Press.  She is an elected member of the American Antiquarian Society and a member of the editorial boards of the journals Signs and Theatre Survey.

Her most recent book, Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights, won five awards: the Outstanding Book Award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE, co-winner), the Grace Abbott Best Book Award from the Society for the History of Children and Youth, the Book Award from the Children's Literature Association, the Lois P. Rudnick Book Prize from the New England American Studies Association, and the IRSCL Award from the International Research Society for Children's Literature.  Racial Innocence was also a runner-up for the American Studies Association's John Hope Franklin Publication Prize and received an Honorable Mention for the Book Award from the Society for the Study of American Women Writers. Her other books include the anthology Cast Out: Queer Lives in Theater (University of Michigan Press) and a Jewish feminist children's book titled Terrible, Terrible!

Bernstein’s recent articles include “Utopian Movements: Nikki Giovanni and the Convocation Following the Virginia Tech Massacre,” which was published in African American Review and won that journal’s 2014 Darwin T. Turner Award for “the best essay representing any period in African American or pan-African literature and culture.”  Her article, “‘I’m Very Happy to Be in the Reality-Based Community’: Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Digital Photography, and George W. Bush,” was just published in the March 2017 issue of American Literature.  Other essays have appeared in PMLATheatre JournalModern DramaJ19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Theatre Topics, and other journals. Bernstein’s 2009 article "Dances with Things: Material Culture and the Performance of Race" was published in Social Text, and it won two prizes: the Outstanding Article award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) and the Vera Mowry Roberts Award for Research and Publication, given by the American Theatre and Drama Society for the best essay published in English. 

Bernstein also publishes in some other genres, including, most recently, academic advice.  Her column “The Art of ‘No’” was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education in March 2017.  For the latest information about Bernstein’s scholarship and other activities, please consult her website:

Courses Taught in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality
GENED 1113 Race, Gender, and Performance
WOMGEN 97 Sophomore Tutorial
WOMGEN 1133 Gender and Performance
WOMGEN 1408 Tomboys, Angels, and Dolls: Girls in American Culture
WOMGEN 1433 Topics in Advanced Performance Studies: Gender and Sexuality
WOMGEN 2000 Introduction to WGS: Graduate Proseminar

Contact Information

Boylston Hall G31
5 Harvard Yard
Cambridge, MA 02138
p: 617-495-9634
Office Hours: