Jennifer Burns

Associate Professor of History
Director of Graduate Admissions
Ph.D., University of California, History (2005)
M.A., University of California, History (2001)
A.B., Harvard University, History (1998)

I am a historian of the twentieth century United States working at the intersection of intellectual, political, and cultural history, with a particular interest in ideas about the state, markets, and capitalism and how these play out in policy and politics.  I have published articles about the history of conservatism, libertarianism, and liberalism in a number of academic and popular journals, including Reviews in American History, Modern Intellectual History, Journal of Cultural Economy, The New York Times, The New Republic, and Dissent.  My first book, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (Oxford, 2009), was an intellectual biography of the libertarian novelist Ayn Rand.  For more on this book, watch my interviews with Jon Stewart  and Steven Colbert, or check out my website.  I have just completed an intellectual biography of the economist Milton Friedman, which will be published in the fall of 2023.

At Stanford, I  teach undergraduate and graduate courses on modern U.S. history, conservatism, and intellectual history.  I'm currently faculty advisor to the new Stanford Humanities Center Workshop in Religion, Politics, and Culture and am a founding faculty member of the American Religions in a Global Context interdisciplinary hub/graduate certificate.   

To prospective graduate students: I will be reading applications for the fall 2023 admissions cycle.  I am able to serve as a primary advisor, and will also work with all admitted graduate students in a supportive capacity.  Due to the volume of inquiries, I'm generally not able to meet or correspond with prospective students, however I always enjoy hearing from students who are interested in working with me.  Please read the information on this page carefully.

Generally, I can advise a range of twentieth century topics, but my expertise is intellectual, political, and cultural history, with a particular interest in the history of American politics, economic thought, religion, and capitalism.   Thankfully, Stanford’s archival collections in these areas are particularly rich, making it possible to explore a range of possible dissertation topics without leaving campus.  If you are admitted to our program, you will be invited to campus and will have a chance to meet with me, other faculty, and current students. I am also available to mentor students pursuing a J.D./Ph.D.  For more information on this program, please visit the website of Stanford's Center for Law and History.

In the meantime, please read carefully the materials about our program on our website, which should answer most questions.  To ensure I read your application carefully, list me as a potential mentor and explain why you think our areas of interest overlap.  You do not need to have identified a potential dissertation topic, although you can indicate potential ideas.  Your  "personal statement"  should not be a personal essay, but rather should describe the intellectual journey that led you to graduate school, referencing specific books, courses, professors, and research experiences.  If you were not an undergraduate history major, explain why history is your chosen discipline and the academic experiences that have prepared you for graduate study.  If you are applying for the joint J.D./PhD., be sure to explain why this program fits your particular interests.

A polished writing sample using primary sources, high grades in history courses, and supportive letters from instructors who know you well are the most important parts of your application.  There is no minimum GRE score requirement.  Be aware that admissions decisions in our department are made collectively.  This means your application must appeal not only to me, but to my colleagues.  Therefore your application needs to show evidence of a certain level of professional development: that you understand primary source research and historiography and are interested in the general sweep of American history, not just your specific corner of research.  Interests often change and develop during graduate school, so the admissions committee is looking for a certain quality of mind, rather than a specific topic.  That said, definitely describe your research interests as you currently understand them, and how you see your approach opening up new ways of understanding the past.  Applicants to the J.D./Ph.D., program must apply and gain entrance separately to the history department and the law school.

Finally, I request that all prospective applicants familiarize themselves with the realities of the extremely competitive academic job market in history.  The latest data is here.  Stanford specific data, including placement rates for history Ph.D graduates over the past 10 years, can be found here.   For a caution on graduate student debt, which can significantly impair your future happiness, click here.  Note that the Stanford data do not distinguish between tenure track and adjunct positions.   While I will work assiduously to help all my advisees gain academic employment, I also encourage and support all students in considering a broad range of careers paths possible with a doctorate in history. 

Cultural History
Economic and Financial History
Intellectual History
Political Culture