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Catherine Denial


Catherine Denial

Bright Distinguished Professor & Chair of History

2 East South Street

Galesburg, IL 61401-4999



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Ford Center for the Fine Arts

Bright Distinguished Professor of American History, Chair of History

Catherine Denial

General Interests
"My research examines the early nineteenth-century experience of pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing in Upper Midwestern Ojibwe and missionary cultures. By analyzing at oral tradition, Ojibwe pharmacological knowledge, and the documents left by traders, missionaries, and government officials, I explore the differences between each cultural group's ideas about infancy and childhood. These differences add to our understanding of why the Ojibwe so firmly rejected the practices of the missionaries through to 1850 - to Ojibwe eyes, the missionaries practiced nothing less than child abuse.

This research is an outgrowth of my previous book, Making Marriage, which focused on marriage in Minnesota before 1850, particularly as a means of understanding gender, sexuality, race and nation-building in the region. Marriages of all kinds, and the households that marriages created, were inextricably bound up with questions of nation and identity for the Dakota, the Ojibwe, mixed-heritage individuals, and Americans who interacted in the Upper Midwest. Through the stories of married - and divorcing - men and women in the region, we can trace the uneven fortunes of American expansion in the early nineteenth century, and the nation-shaping power of marital acts."

Years at Knox: 2005 to present

Ph.D., History, 2005, University of Iowa.
MA, History, 1996, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
B.A., (Hons), American Studies, 1994, University of Nottingham.

Teaching Interests
American Indian History, Women and Gender in North America, Sexuality and Marital Law.

Full Curriculum Vitae - (PDF)

Personal Website

Selected Professional Accomplishments


  • American Historical Association, Eugene Asher Distinguished Teaching Award, 2018.
  • Knox College TRIO Program Outstanding Educator of the Year, 2018.
  • Selected for the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic’s Second-Book Writers’ Workshop, SHEAR Annual Meeting, July 19 2018.
  • Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship, American Philosophical Society, June-July 2018, Philadelphia, PA, $3000.
  • Travel support from the Committee on Faculty Resources to attend the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic annual meeting, July, 2018.
  • Travel support from the Committee on Faculty Resources and the Park Ethics Fund, Knox College to attend the American Historical Association annual meeting, January 2017.
  • Knox Mellon Faculty Career Enhancement Grant - Interdisciplinary Course Development: New Course: "Trump Syllabus 2.0" 2016-2017.
  • ACM Mellon Faculty Career Enhancement Grant with Katherine Tegtmeyer Pak, Adrienne Falcon, Emily A. Bowman, Eric Popkin, Javier Escandell, "Sharing Expertise in Community-Based Learning & Research Addressing Immigration," Associated Colleges of the Midwest, 2016-2017.
  • Travel support from the American Historical Association as part of the Workshop on Undergraduate Teaching, American Historical Association annual meeting, January 2016.
  • Cartier Faculty Excellence Award, 2015.
  • College Faculty Career Enhancement Grant, awarded to Knox College by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, research funding, 2014.
  • The Illinois Humanities Council, funding for "People and Place," the 2014 Museums, Monuments and Memory class exhibit, 2013.
  • The Knight Endowment for Religious Studies, Knox College, course development funding, 2013.
  • College Faculty Career Enhancement Grant, awarded to Knox College by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, research funding, 2010-11 and 2011-12.
  • Council of Independent Colleges / Gilder Lehrman American History Seminar participant, New York University, June 24-30, 2007.


“The Privilege of Despair,” Nursing Clio, October 8, 2018.

"Reservations, Resistance, and the Indian Reorganization Act: American Indian Life, 1900-1940." Digital Public Library of America, February 28, 2018.

"Powhatan People and the English at Jamestown." Digital Public Library of America, September 28, 2017.

Review of Ann McGrath, Illicit Love: Interracial Sex & Marriage in the United States & Australia. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015, in the Native American and Indigenous Studies Journal, 4:1 (2017): 118-119.

"The Subjective Self: Teaching Student Historians to ask 'Who Am I?'"Syllabus. 5:2 (2016).

Review of Bethel L. Saler, The Settlers Empire: Colonialism and State Formation in America's Old Northwest.  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014, in The Annals of Iowa, 75:4 (2016): 429-431.

Review of Susan Sleeper-Smith, Juliana Barr, Jean M. O'Brien, Nancy Shoemaker, and Scott Manning Stevens, eds., Why You Can't Teach United States History Without American Indians. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015, in Minnesota History, 64:8 (Winter 2015-16): 337.

Review of Linda M. Clemmons, Conflicted Mission: Faith, Disputes, and Deception on the Dakota Frontier, St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2014, in The Western Historical Quarterly, 46:3 (Autumn 2015): 368-369.

Making Marriage: Husbands, Wives, and the American State in Dakota and Ojibwe Country. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2013.

"Atoms, Honeycombs, and Fabric Scraps: Rethinking Timelines in the Undergraduate Classroom," The History Teacher, 46:3 (May 2013): 415-434.

Review of Saliha Belmessous, ed., Native Claims: Indigenous Law Against Empire, 1500-1920. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012, in The Historian, 75:2 (Summer 2013): 423-424.

Review of Mary Butler Renville, A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity: Dispatches from the Dakota War. Edited by Carrie Reber Zeman and Kathryn Zabelle, Derounian-Stodola. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012, in Minnesota History, 63/5 (Spring 2013): 213.

Review of Ann Durkin Keating, Rising Up From Indian Country: The Battle of Fort Dearborn and the Birth of Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012, in Journal of Illinois History, 15 (Spring 2012): 51-52..

Review of Colette A. Hyman, Dakota Women's Work: Creativity, Culture, and Exile. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2012 in The Annals of Iowa, 71:4 (Fall 2012): 357-358.

Review of James Joseph Buss, Winning the West with Words: Language and Conquest in the Lower Great Lakes. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 2011, in Western Historical Quarterly, 43:4 (Autumn 2012): 383-384.

Review of Mary Lethert Wingerd, North Country: The Making of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010, in American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 36:1 (2012): 213-216.

Review of Carl J. Ekberg, Stealing Indian Women: Native Slavery in the Illinois Country. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2007, in The Annals of Iowa, 70:1 (Winter 2011) 67-69.

" Pelagie Farribault's Island: Property, Kinship, and the Contested Meaning of Marriage in Dakota Country," Minnesota History. 62:2 (Summer 2010): 48-59.

" Ethics for Historians: The Perspective of One Undergraduate Class." Perspectives on History.


Panelist and Panel Organizer, “I Got It!”: Primary Source Analysis and Formative Assessment in an Introductory-Level Classroom,” for the panel “What Are We Learning?: Innovative Assessments and Student Learning in College-Level History Classes.” Co-sponsored by the Teaching Division. American Historical Association annual meeting, Chicago, Illinois, January 3-6, 2019.

Historical Consultant, Iowa Native Spaces Teacher Training Workshop, Meskwaki Settlement, IA. April 1-2, 2017.

"Assignment Charette," American Historical Association Annual Meeting, Atlanta, GA. January 8, 2016.

Chair and commenter, "Seven Weddings and a Funeral: Life, Death, Ritual, and Meaning in the Early Republic," Society for Historians of the Early American Republic annual meeting, July 19-22, 2018.

"An Undergraduate Perspective on Ethics," Roundtable: Should Ethics Training Be Part of Historical Pedagogy? American Historical Association Annual Meeting, Washington, D.C., January 5, 2018. Remarks delivered in absentia due to flight canceled owing to weather.

"The Iowa Women's Archives as Virtual Classroom," Symposium: The Iowa Women's Archives at 25: The Feminist Impulse, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, November 11, 2017. 

"How to Develop a New Intergroup Dialogue Course on Gender Beyond the Binary on your Campus," With Gabrielle Raley. Second Biennial Intergroup Dialogue Project Conference, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, June 13-16, 2017.

"Fridays at Four: Faculty Dialogue," with Gabrielle Raley, Knox College, Galesburg, IL, February 12, 2016. 

Invited participant, Assignment Charette, American Historical Association Annual Meeting, Atlanta, Georgia, January 8, 2014.

Invited Lecturer, "Teaching Women's History," Online Panel, Western Governors University, Women's History Month Celebration, March 25, 2013.

Invited Speaker, "Historical Thinking Skills in the K-16 Classroom," University of Iowa Department of History, Iowa City, November 21, 2013.

Keynote Address: "Primary Sources and Other Useful Tools: The Bringing History Home Experience of Raising Literacy Across the Curriculum." History and Social Science Teachers Conference, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois, October 24, 2013.

"Source, Observe, Contextualize, Corroborate: Primary Source Analysis in the K-12 Classroom." History and Social Science Teachers Conference, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois, October 24, 2013.

"'Am I a Woman that I Should Hoe Corn?': Marriage as Imperialism, Marriage as Resistance: Dakota Country, 1835-45," A World of Citizens: Women, History, and the Vision of Linda K. Kerber," University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, Oct. 5-6, 2012.

"SOCC it to 'em: Teaching Historical Thinking Skills in High School and College," Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, April 18, 2012.

"Catherine Denial" at Women Changing Iowa, the History Corps Project, University of Iowa, February. 

Campus & Community Involvement

External Service:

  • Outside Reviewer, Illinois College History Program, November 5-6, 2018
  • Board Member, Safe Harbor Family Crisis Center, 2017-
  • Appointed Member, University of Iowa Graduate College External Advisory Board, 2017-2020
  • Member, Educational Advisory Committee, Digital Public Library of America, 2017-2018
  • Outside Reviewer, Lake Forest College Department of History, December 1-2, 2014

Elected positions

  • Faculty Representative on the Board of Trustees, 2016-2017
  • Executive Committee of the Faculty, 2013-2016 
    • Chair, Faculty Affairs Subcommittee, 2014-2015
  • Observer to the Board of Trustees, 2011-2013

Faculty Committees

  • Ombudsperson, 2017-2019
  • Academic Standing Committee, 2012-2013
  • Cultural Events Committee, 2012
  • Curriculum Committee, 2007-2010

Other Service

  • Director, SPARK Summer Bridge Program, 2016, 2017


What Students Say
"Cate's impact on my life as a professor, advisor, and friend cannot be understated. The love and respect she shows her students is infectious, and her emphasis on understanding perspective in both historical and contemporary sources continues to shape my life every day. Meeting Cate was truly a life changing experience." 

- Ken Bartelt '17, history major, anthropology and sociology and educational policy minors

"When I think of someone who changes you, academically and emotionally, I think of Cate Denial. All of her history courses challenge you to think of how we understand history, who is a part of the story, and what role we all play in the human narrative. Further, she cares deeply about her students, always on hand to give advice, comfort you, act as a mentor, and see you through the tough times. She's one of the best parts of Knox College."

- Celinda Davis '15, history major, anthropology and sociology and social service minors

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Printed on Tuesday, May 18, 2021