Sara McDougall

Sara McDougall

Professor, John Jay College and the CUNY Graduate Center
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2009-2010 -  Gotlieb Fellow in Legal History, NYU School of Law

2009          -   PhD Yale University

2003           -  BA/MA Boston University


Sara McDougall is Professor of History at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and appointed to the faculty in Biography and Memoir, French, History, and Medieval Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center. She studies gender and justice in the Middle Ages, with a focus on women's encounters with legal and religious ideas in the society and culture of Medieval France. She is the author of two books, Bigamy and Christian Identity in Late-Medieval Champagne (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), and Royal Bastards: The Birth of Illegitimacy, c.800-1230 (Oxford, 2017). She has co-edited special issues for Law & History Review and Gender & History on historical responses infanticide and on marriage in global history, and a six-volume Global History of Crime and Punishment is forthcoming with Bloomsbury Press in 2023. Recent articles examine punishing women for having sex, infanticide prosecutions, consequences of extramarital pregnancy, illegitimacy and the priesthood, and adultery prosecution in medieval France, as well as other writings on the family, marriage, gender, and crime. She has also written on these topics for Slate, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.

In 2023-2024 she will be a Fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers of the New York Public Library. In 2022 she was a visiting professor at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and an Astor Visiting Professor at Oxford University. She was also the Norman Freehling Visiting Professor at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities in the winter of 2020. Other fellowships include the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and NYU Law School’s Golieb Legal History fellowship. She completed her doctorate in medieval history at Yale University in May 2009.

JJC Affiliations

Global History, History and Law, Humanities and Justice, Gender Studies

Professional Memberships

Medieval Academy of America K-12 Outreach Committee.

Board of Directors, Libraries Without Borders USA.

Board, Association of Members of the Institute for Advanced Study (AMIAS) Princeton, New Jersey.


Course Taught

Famous Trials

Women's Stories in Premodern French

Interdisciplinary Topics in Law: Mothers in Law 

Sex and Single Mothers in Medieval France

Female Felons in the Pre-modern World

Justice in the Western Legal Tradition

Comparative Perspectives on Justice 

Global History 500-1500

History of Gender and Sexuality to 1650

Introduction to Medieval Studies

Medieval Marriage 

Punishment in the Premodern World

Bastards and Thrones in Medieval Europe

Immigrant Justice 






Scholarly Work

Royal Bastards: the birth of illegitimacy, 800-1230 (Oxford University Press, Oxford Studies in Medieval European History, 2017).
Bigamy and Christian Identity in Late-Medieval Champagne (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012). 

Editorial Projects: 
with the late Clive Emsley, A Global History of Crime and Punishment, 6 volumes. Bloomsbury Press (forthcoming, March 2023).
with Felicity Turner, Forum: "Rethinking the Criminalization of Childbirth: Infanticide in Premodern Europe and the Modern Americas," Law & History Review 39:2 (May 2021).
with Sarah Pearsall, Gender & History Special Issue: Marriage's Global Past (November 2017).
with Thomas Barton, Susan McDonough, and Matthew Wranovix, Boundaries in the Medieval and Wider World. Festschrift in Honour of Paul Freedman, Europa Sacra 22 (Brepols, 2017).  
with John Witte and Anna di Robilant, Texts and Contexts in Legal History: Essays in Honor of Charles Donahue, Robbins Collection, UC Berkeley (October 2016).

Recent Journal Articles and Book Chapters:

with Emily Hutchison, “Pardonable Sodomy: Uncovering Laurence’s Sin and Recovering the Range of the Possible,” Medieval People 2 (January 2023)

"Judging Sexy Women in Late Medieval France," postmedieval, August 2022. 

“Canon Law and Marriage,” in the Cambridge History of Medieval Canon Law, eds. Anders Winroth and John Wei (CUP, January 2022). 

"Singlewomen and Illicit Pregnancy in Late Medieval France: The Case of Marie Ribou (1481)" French Historical Studies, 44:3 (August 2021).

"Pardoning Infanticide in Late Medieval France," Law & History Review 39:2 (May 2021).

"The Chivalric Family" in Knighthood and Society in the High Middle Ages, eds. David Crouch and Jeroen Deploige, (Leuven University Press, 2020).

"Bastard Priests: Illegitimacy and Ordination in Medieval Europe," Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies 94/1 (January 2019).

with Sarah Pearsall, "Marriage's Global Past: Introduction," in Gender & History Special Issue:  Marriage's Global Past (November 2017).

Recent conference, co-organized with Arnaud Fossier: "Gender on Trial/Genre en procès" University of Burgundy, Dijon, December 14-15, 2022. 

Co-Founder and Project Editor, Middle Ages For Educators 


Honors and Awards

Visiting Professor in legal history, Université Paris II Panthéon-Assas, December 2022
Astor Visiting Lectureship, Oxford University, June 2022
Norman Freehling Visiting Professor, University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities, spring 2020.  
Mellon Fellow, Member, School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton NJ. 2014-2015.
Golieb Fellow in Legal History at New York University School of Law, 2009-2010.
Distinguished CUNY Fellow, Advanced Research Collaborative, The Graduate School of the City University of New York, spring 2017. 

Research Summary

Forthcoming Publications: 

"Sex with Nuns in Medieval France," Essays in Honor of Charles Donahue, Jr. eds. Saskia Lettmaier and Elizabeth Papp Kamali (Brill Press, under consideration).



Area of Expertise

Most requested topics by media

Sexual Violence / Intimate Partner Violence
Women / Gender Justice

Faculty Expertise: topics/keywords

Legal history, women's history, family history, history of the Catholic Church, crime, sexuality and gender, Medieval Europe. 

In The Media


WNPR's Colin McEnroe show: "Bastards and Game of Thrones." podcast: "Bastards and Priests in the Middle Ages."


Society for the History of Children and Youth featured book: Royal Bastards, interview with Prof. Miriam Shadis,



Selected Public Writing/Media:

-for Slate, with David Perry, "In the Middle Ages, Botched Executions were a Sign." "Women Who Hurt Women," & 'Thieves and Harlots' Matt Damon's Last Duel mullet had its reasons" & "What's Fact and What's Fiction in The Last Duel?" &  "Mind Your Neighbor: What's Happening in Texas isn't Medieval, it's Worse,"

-New York Times, "Catholic Bishops Agree: Anything But a Woman." 

-The Washington Post, "When the Catholic Church’s prohibition on scandal helped women."

-Perspectives: the newsmagazine of the American Historical Association, with Brian Connolly and Hans Hummer, "WEIRD Science: Incest and History."

-The Docket: Law and History Review, with Mireille Pardon and Karl Shoemaker, " 'Abortion Was a Crime'?

-Ms. Magazine online, with Felicity Turner: "Qatar and Us: The Violation of Women’s Bodies Has a Long History Among Western Nations."