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Jennifer Burns

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Assistant Professor of History, University of Virginia, 2007- present 
Area of Research: American political, cultural, and intellectual history 
Education: Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley, History, 2005 
Major Publications: Burns is the author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (Oxford University Press 2009), an intellectual biography of the controversial novelist and philosopher. Based on exclusive access to Rand's personal papers, Goddess of the Market is the only book to draw upon Rand's unedited letters and journals. Jennifer Burns JPGBurns is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others: "O Libertarian, Where is Thy Sting?" Journal of Policy History, Vol. 19, No. 4, 2007: 453-471; "Liberalism and The Conservative Imagination," in Liberalism for a New Century, Eds. Neil Jumonville and Kevin Mattson (University of California Press, 2007); "In Retrospect: George Nash's The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945,"  Reviews in American History, 32 (September 2004): 447-462; "Godless Capitalism: Ayn Rand and the Conservative Movement," Modern Intellectual History, 1, 3 (November 2004): 1-27. Reprinted in American Capitalism: Social Thought and Political Economy in Twentieth Century America, ed. Nelson Lichtenstein (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006). 
Awards: Burns is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer, 2010-2013; 
University of Virginia Sesquicentennial Fellowship, 2010-2011; 
University of Virginia Bankard Fund for Political Economy, 2010-2011, 2009; 
University of Virginia Summer Research Grant, 2009; 
University of Virginia Excellence in Diversity Fellow, 2008-2009; 
University of Virginia Professors as Writers Fellow, 2008-2009; 
Campbell National Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, 2007-2008; 
National Endowment for the Humanities, Summer Stipend, 2007; 
James H. Kettner Graduate Prize for best dissertation, 2006, Berkeley History Department; 
Library Prize for Undergraduate Research, UC Berkeley. Mentor of prizewinners, 2006 and 2003; 
Research Fellow, Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, 2006; 
Grantee, F.A. Hayek Fund for Scholars, Institute for Humane Studies, 2006, 2007; 
University of California, Berkeley, History Department Block Grant Fellowship, 2004, 2000; 
University of California, Berkeley, Dean's Competitive Fellowship, 2002; 
Derek Bok Certificate of Distinction for excellence in teaching, Harvard University, 2000; 

Additional Info: 
Burns has appeared on The Daily Show with Jon StewartC-Span’s Book TVNPR's Weekend America, and Here & Now. She has also contributed articles to Harvard MagazineForeign Policythe Christian Science Monitor, and several academic journals.
Burns has been a guest lecturer at Harvard, Columbia Business School, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, Rice University, and the Cato Institute.
Jennifer Burns personal website www.jenniferburns.org

Personal Anecdote

In 2006 I was starting my first job as a lecturer at UC Berkeley when the technology office phoned up and asked if I would like to podcast my course "Introduction to United States History Since 1865." I didn't even have an iPod, but I said "yes" without thinking much about it, thus launching the most unexpected and rewarding aspect of my career as a historian. Six months later, my lectures were up on iTunes and had been downloaded nearly 300,000 times. My inbox was bursting with emails from enthusiastic history students around the world. Accustomed to the private sanctuary of my books and my study, I panicked. It felt as though I had lost some cherished measure of privacy, and I wanted the lectures taken down immediately.

But then I paused and began to reflect on my goals and values as a historian. I had spent years of advanced study gathering knowledge - was this now to be shared only with specialists in my field? I had always believed historians should seek a broader audience, and now I was living that vision. As a Ph.D. student I had benefited from the intellectual vitality and openness of a public university, and my lectures were one small way to further the Berkeley legacy. 

Instead of taking the lectures down, I decided to create a website for podcasters and began corresponding regularly with my listeners. Since then, the sense of speaking to a larger audience has shaped and strengthened all of my scholarship. Podcasting helped me craft my first book, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, so that it appealed to both academics and general readers. Engaging with the public has deepened my commitment to educational equity and convinced me that there need not be a firewall between professional and popular history. I have learned that even from the ivory tower, our profession can still foster and connect with the ongoing human search for meaning, story, and a shared past. Though I may be an accidental podcaster, I have become and hope to remain a deliberate historian.


By Jennifer Burns

  • Writing my first book, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, was like being a detective at Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right JPGthe heart of an intellectual mystery story. Though Rand's legend was well established among both her fans and enemies, there was little scholarly work about her life and career. I was the first historian to work in her personal papers, and thus it was essential to document her life with archival evidence. Then came the challenge of fitting Rand into the evolving ideological landscape of the American right, which historians were just beginning to chart. The final step was crafting an analytic narrative that would demystify Rand yet retain the tension and sense of discovery that animated my years of detective work. -- Jennifer Burns about "Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right"
  • This book firmly locates Rand within the tumultuous American century that her life spanned. Rand's defense of individualism, celebration of capitalism, and controversial morality of selfishness can be understood only against the backdrop of her historical moment. All sprang from her early experiences in Communist Russia and became the most powerful and enduring of her messages. What Rand confronted in her work was a basic human dilemma; the failure of good intentions. Her indictment of altruism, social welfare, and services to others sprang from her belief that these ideals underlay Communism, Nazism, and the wars that wracked the century. Rand's solution, characteristically was extreme: to eliminate all virtues that could possibly be used in the service of totalitarianism. It was also simplistic. If Rand's great strength as a thinker was to grasp interrelated underlying principles and weave them into an impenetrable logical edifice, it was also her great weakness. In her effort to find a unifying cause for all the trauma and the trauma and bloodshed of the twentieth century, Rand was attempting the impossible. But it was this deadly serious quest that animated all her writing. Rand was among the first to identify the problem of the modern state's often terrifying power and make it an issue of popular concern.....
    Goddess of the Market focuses on Rand's contributions as a political philosopher, for it is here that she has exerted her greatest influence. Rand's Romantic Realism has not changed American literature, nor has Objectivism penetrated far into the philosophy profession. She does however, remain a veritable institution within the American right. Atlas Shrugged is still devoured by eager young conservatives, cited by political candidates, and promoted by corporate tycoons. Critics who dismiss Rand as a shallow thinker appealing only to adolescents miss her significance altogether. For over a half a century Rand has been the ultimate gateway drug to life on the right. 
    The story of Ayn Rand is also the story of libertarianism, conservatism, Objectivism, and the three schools of thought that intersected more prominently with her life. - Jennifer Burns in "Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right"
  • Jennifer Burns on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
  • About Jennifer Burns

  • "An important study... Burns's dispassionate intellectual history makes a persuasive case that Ayn Rand was no joke; she was a forceful and original thinker, and a gifted manipulator of fictional conventions for ideological ends." -- Elaine Showalter, Times Literary Supplement
  • "A lovingly crafted piece of scholarly work, thrifty and concise, that follows Rand's shifting sands of ideology." -- News Blaze
  • "Burns' thoroughly engaging biography of writer, philosopher, and all-around controversial figure Rand delves deeply into both Rands life and her fervent devotion to capitalism and individualism.... Burns' clear, crisp writing and piercing insights into Rand and her motivations make this eminently readable biography a must-read not only for Rand devotees but for anyone interested in the merging of literature and politics."-- Booklist(starred review)
  • "A smart assessment of Rand's life and ideas and how they influenced each other... As Ms. Burns successfully demonstrates, Rand's ideas have remained an importaAs Ms. Burns successfully demonstrates, Rand's ideas have remained an important part of the American ideological mix, especially in how she honored the creative powers of American business in a free market to improve human lives. Ms. Burns' readers will see Rand still has the power to instruct on the meaning and scary implications of government growth in the age of Barack Obama. -- Brian Doherty, The Washington Times
  • "Burns... spent 8 years researching the development of Rand's thinking and principles, and she has produced a terrific book--a serious consideration of Rand's ideas, and her role in the conservative movement of the past three quarters of a century, that is empty of academic jargon and accessible to those unfamiliar with Rand's life or ideas." -- The American Thinker
  • "Burns... situates Rand in a rich intellectual and cultural tradition that predated the New Deal and eventually gave rise to a revitalized limited-government movement that culminated in figures such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Burns is particularly sharp at analyzing how Cold War conservatives such as Buckley rejected Rands rationalism but eventually benefited from her popularity with college students during the 1960s. Since the demise of their common foe, the Soviet Union, conservatives and libertarians increasingly find themselves at odds with one another over precisely the same issues that Rand and Buckley fought over decades ago. These range from questions about the proper role of religion in a secular society to whether the state should be used to restrict alternative lifestyles to the legitimate circumstances for military action."-- Nick Gillespie, Wilson Quarterly
  • "What University of Virginia historian Burns does well is to explicate the evolution of Rand's individualist worldview, placing her within the context of American conservative and libertarian thought: from H.L. Mencken to William Buckley and later the Vietnam War... Overall, this contributes to an understanding of a complex life in relation to American conservatism."--Publishers Weekly
  • "Burns has assembled a book that will interest anyone who was influenced by Ayn Rand.When a major academic publisher, like Oxford University Press, sets out to explore to the impact of Ayn Rand on American politics, that alone is a significant event... Jennifer Burns has produced a fascinating work. It is the first serious study of Rands ideas that had full access to Rands own papers. As such it is valuable. I would recommend all those interested in Ayn Rand, and Objectivism, to place their order for the book today." -- Laissez Faire Books
  • "One of the most influential, most infuriating figures in the history of American conservatism has finally met her match. Goddess of the Market is both insightful scholarship and a compelling piece of writing. Jennifer Burns has created a model for intellectual biographers to follow."-- Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan
  • "This provocative intellectual biography is must-reading for all those interested in the life and work of one of the most controversial thinkers of the 20th century. Drawing carefully from primary and secondary sources, Jennifer Burns has made a significant contribution to Ayn Rand scholarship." -- Chris Matthew Sciabarra, author of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical
  • "Jennifer Burns has written a brilliant book about Ayn Rand--why many men and women praise her, but others despise her. She places Rand in the intellectual and political history of her times, moving adroitly between Rand's fiction, non-fiction, and the people with whom she interacted." -- Martin Anderson, Hoover Institution
  • "Ayn Rand has always been a difficult figure to fit into the history of conservatism, but surely she mattered--and matters still. This important and beautifully written book shows how. It seamlessly links Rand's operatic personal life with her political ideals and influence of those ideas, conversations, tirades, friendships, fights, and intimacies with finely-drawn and memorable characters. This is biography, intellectual history, and political genealogy that gets the story right, told with drama, skill, and insight." -- Paula Baker, Ohio State University
  • "Goddess of the Market by Jennifer Burns just arrived. I ripped open the package and got stuck reading and reading and reading. The emails, phonecalls, and IMs just had to wait. Let me just say that this is a wonderful book: beautifully written, completely balanced, extensively researched. The match between author and subject is so perfect that one might believe that the author was chosen by the gods to write this book. She has sympathy and affection for her subject but treats her as a human being, with no attempt to cover up the foibles. It is quite wonderful. I so look forward to getting back to it. It is hard to imagine that it can be surpassed as a history of Rand, her ideas, and life." -- Mises Economics Blog
  • "Burns has the edge, though, in identifying Rand's intellectual legacy. She describes Rand as "the ultimate gateway drug to life on the right," elaborating: "Just as Rand had provided businessmen with a set of ideas that met their need to feel righteous and honorable in their professional lives, she gave young people a philosophical system that met their deep need for order and certainty." -- Washington Monthly Magazine
  • "One of the strengths of Burns' book is that she, unlike some other liberal scholars, has an excellent understanding of the issues that divided libertarians and conservatives, and also of the distinctions between different types of libertarianism. Burns' book is a great analysis of Rand's place in history, and I certainly recommend it to anyone interested in Rand or the history of libertarian and pro-free market movements." -- The Volokh Conspiracy.com
  • "A well-written and absorbing biography of Rand, it also places her ideas and influence in three overlapping contexts. Goddess of the Market goes a long way toward explaining both the popularity of Rand's ideas and their somewhat marginalized status. -- U.S. Intellectual History
  • "A lovingly crafted piece of scholarly work, thrifty and concise, that follows Rand's shifting sands of ideology." -- News Blaze
  • "Historian Jennifer Burns's GODDESS OF THE MARKET--the stronger of the two [biographies]--situates Rand in the 20th- century American political scene, painting her as an influential advocate for capitalism and freedom." -- The Weekly Standard
  • "Although it is hard to imagine that Rand would have been pleased with either of these biographies, both should have satisfied her desire to be treated respectfully, as a woman of ideas. The two books cover much of the same ground despite their methodological differences: Heller relies more heavily on interviews, whereas Burns has done more work in the archives (both Rand's and those of other conservative thinkers). Heller's book also emphasizes the affair with Nathaniel Branden, which has been explored before in memoirs by both Brandens. Burns seeks instead to tell the story of Rand's intellectual development, situating her in the constellation of postwar conservatism, and in this way her more academic treatment is also the more original." –- Harper's
  • "The class was very engaging and I enjoyed the material thoroughly. The analysis of cultural and political trends is a topic that often does not get enough attention in high school. Professor Burns did a great job choosing readings to reinforce her lectures... This woman can really lecture and my fifty minutes goes quickly in this class. She is enthusiastic and audible, and it is obvious she is knowledgeable in her field of study. She speaks to her class and does not simply just read off a slide show. Professor Burns is also very easy to reach outside of class. She always notifies us via email if there are changes to her office hours. I also appreciate the effort on her part to notify students when there are political and historical forums on Grounds related to the course. She has been a great professor and this has been a very informative class and one that I made a point never to miss."...
    "I loved the material presented in this class, it gave me a clearer perspective of todays world. This is really a worthwhile and interesting class."... 
    "GREAT course! I learned so much from Professor Burns and she was one of the most effective and efficient lecturers I have had thus far. Her lectures are very easy to follow and she gives a great synopsis of historical events. LOVED this course." 
    "Listening to Prof. Burns lecture, it's obviously how passionate she is about the subject matter. She's extremely knowledgeable about the subject matter and lectures were neatly organized in an easy-to-follow manner. She did an excellent job of looking at all aspects of events that have (comparatively) occurred so recently so that we could view them in proper historical context."...
    "She was an excellent lecturer and I could tell she cared about the students."...
    "This was by far my favorite class at UVA."... 
    "I am a history major, and this was one of the best history classes I have taken here. Professor Burns is an excellent lecturer, the readings were fascinating, and the workload was challenging but manageable."... 
    "Burns is an AMAZING lecturer; very organized, very lively, very articulate. Overall, extremely effective."... 
    "Professor Jennifer Burns is wonderful. It would be a huge mistake not to tenure this brilliant, approachable, unbelievably articulate woman. Her classes were always fascinating, and she has an ability to tie everything together. I can't stress enough how much I admire her ability to articulate not only the history, but the circumstances combining that shaped the events we studied. SHE IS AN INCREDIBLE TEACHER. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE TENURE HER SO I CAN TAKE MORE OF HER CLASSES! I almost want to give her a round of applause after each class, and I am not exaggerating."...
    "Fantastic and well-organized coverage of the material. Readings were well chosen, supplemented the lecture and added depth to the course. Very dynamic professor." -- Undergraduate Student Comments
  • "The course was informative, compelling, and rigorous. Altogether, everything a graduate seminar should be."... 
    "Dr. Burns was very willing to allow me to use a topic related to my dissertation for my papers in this class. This was extremely helpful for me. Thanks for your patience and help!"...
    "I found Prof. Burns to be an excellent Professor, and am sure she will teach many great courses in the future, and be a real asset to the department." - Great class - got a lot out of it. -- Grad Student Comments