Northwestern Events Calendar


GLOBAL LUNCHBOX | The Birth Certificate: An American History — A Conversation with Susan J. Pearson

When: Friday, February 11, 2022
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM CT

Where: Online

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Cost: Free

Contact: Cindy Pingry  


Category: Global & Civic Engagement, Academic, Lectures & Meetings


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Please join us for the Global Lunchbox, a weekly conversation convened by the Weinberg College Center for International and Area Studies at Northwestern University featuring conversations with scholars about their current research on a range of critical issues.

Our guest this week will be Susan J. Pearson, Associate Professor of History at Northwestern. Pearson’s new book, The Birth Certificate: An American History, examines both how birth registration became compulsory in the United States and how birth certificates became trusted forms of identification.

She shows how states and the federal government used birth registration to collect, collate, and disseminate knowledge about their populations, and she shows how birth certificates became central to the administration of social policy and citizenship. Far from acting as neutral recorders of facts, birth certificates opened and closed the gates to school, work, entitlements, pensions, passports, drivers’ licenses, even land. They were instruments in a state that sorted and allocated goods according to age, gender, race, and citizenship status.

“Pearson's discoveries about the part the birth certificate has played in American political, social, and organizational life are stunning.”—Sarah E. Igo, author of The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America

Professor Pearson is also the author of the prize-winning book The Rights of the Defenseless: Protecting Animals and Children in Gilded Age America (2011).

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