About

Raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Deborah Cohen was educated at Harvard (BA) and Berkeley (Ph.D.).  She is Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Humanities and Professor of History at Northwestern University.  Her specialty is modern European history, with a focus on Britain.

Cohen’s research has been funded by the Mellon Foundation, the National Humanities Center, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, the American Council of Learned Societies (Frederick Burkhardt Fellowship for Recently Tenured Scholars) and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

She is the author of three books:  The War Come Home (University of California Press, 2001), Household Gods:  The British and their Possessions (Yale, 2006), and Family Secrets, published in 2013 by Viking Penguin in the UK, Canada, Australia, India, and New Zealand and by Oxford University Press in the US. 

Press Reviews

Book of the Year -- Times Literary Supplement

Wednesday, November 27, 2013
The Times Literary Supplement
Frances Wilson

"Rigorous and relevant."

Starting with the premiss that a private life and a secret life no longer mean the same thing, Deborah Cohen's rigorous and relevant Family Secrets:  Living with shame from the Victorians to the present day (Viking) explores the shameful history of how we have covered up our shameful histories.  She brings together the families who harboured secrets, the individuals -- illegitimate, mentally handicapped, mixed-race -- who were secrets, and the current rage for uncovering the secrets of our ancestors (one in six people who have explored their heritage on internet sites have apparently discovered something that a previous generation sought to hide).

Review in TLS

Friday, April 26, 2013
The Times Literary Supplement
Pat Thane

"Deborah Cohen opens up the role of the family in bringing about this change, raising new questions and perspectives in this mysterious, important area of history."

English families have long kept socially shaming episodes secret, which makes reconstructing the history of the English family all the harder. Deborah Cohen explores what was kept secret and how, what has changed since the early nineteenth century and why. She focuses on the middle classes, since those "above" and "below" them socially were less successful at, or less concerned with, hiding their transgressions from prying eyes - from eighteenth-century cartoonists to modern tabloids.

By the Yard

Friday, February 9, 2007
The Times Literary Supplement
Paul Barker

“Deborah Cohen’s entertaining and scholarly thesis, in Household Gods, is that life is seldom how designers or architects plan it to be.”