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 Global History at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, and appointed to the faculty of the CUNY Graduate Center in Biography and Memoir, French, History, and Medieval Studies.

Her research and writings engage with questions of gender and justice in the distant past, especially as concerns women, criminal law, religion and society, most often in Medieval France. She has written on these topics for Slate, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.

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, soon, a six-volume Global History of Crime and Punishment forthcoming with Bloomsbury Press. Her recent articles examine infanticide prosecutions, consequences of extramarital pregnancy, illegitimacy and the priesthood, adultery prosecution, and spousal homicide in medieval France, as well as other writings on the family, marriage, gender, and crime. She was the Norman Freehling Visiting Professor at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities in the winter of 2020 and an Astor Visiting Professor at Oxford University in 2022. Other recent 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. 


Professional Memberships

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

Justice in the Non-Western Legal Traditions

Global History 500-1500

History of Gender and Sexuality to 1650

Introduction to Medieval Studies

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).

Journal Articles and Book Chapters:
"Judging Sexy Women in Late Medieval France," postmedieval, July 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).
"The Monk-King and the Abbess-Countess: Dynastic Lineage in Twelfth Century Aragon and Boulogne" in Boundaries in the Medieval and Wider World. Festschrift in Honour of Paul Freedman, Europa Sacra 22 (Brepols, 2017).  
with Charles Donahue, Jr. “France and Adjoining Areas,” in History of Courts and Procedure in Medieval Canon Law eds. Kenneth Pennington and Wilfried Hartmann (Catholic University Press, November 2016).
“Enclosure as Punishment for Adultery,” in Proceedings of the Fourteenth International     Congress of Medieval Canon Law, Toronto 3-9 August 2012, eds. Joseph Goering, Stephan Dusil, and Andreas Thier, Monumenta Iuris Canonici, Series C: Subsidia     (Vatican City: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 2016).
“À la recherche des enfants illégitimes dans les archives de l’officialité de Troyes au xve siècle.     Un exemple atypique?” in Bâtards et bâtardises dans l’Europe médiévale et moderne, ed.  Carole Avignon (Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2016). 
“Fiction and Lies: Adultery and Spousal Homicide Accusations in Fifteenth Century France" in Imagining Early Modern Histories, eds. Allison Kavey and Elizabeth Ketner (Ashgate, 2016).
“The Transformation of Adultery in France at the End of the Middle Ages,” Law and History Review 32:3 (August 2014).
“The Opposite of the Double Standard: Gender, Marriage, and Adultery Prosecution in Late Medieval France,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 23:2 (May 2014).  
“Women Before the Officiality of Troyes in the Fifteenth Century,” in Les officialités dans  l'Europe médiévale et moderne: Des tribunaux pour une société chrétienne eds.     Véronique Beaulande-Barraud and Martine Charageat, (Brepols, 2014). 
“The Making of Marriage in Medieval Europe,” Journal of Family History 38:3 (July 2013). 
  “Women and Gender in Medieval Canon Law,” in the Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender  in Medieval Europe, eds. Ruth Karras and Judith Bennett (July 2013). 
“Bigamy: A Male Crime in Medieval Europe,” Gender and History 22:2 (August 2010).
 “The Punishment of Bigamy in Late-Medieval France,” Imago Temporis Acti. Medium Aevum 3  (2009). 
 “The Prosecution of Sex in Late Medieval Troyes,” in History of Sexuality in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, ed. Albrecht Classen (De Gruyter: 2008).



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: 

with Emily Hutchison, “Pardonable Sodomy: Uncovering Laurence’s Sin and Recovering the Range of the Possible,” Medieval People 2 (December 2022)



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:

Slate, with David Perry, " '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."

Law & History Review "The Docket" co-edited with Felicity Turner; with Karl Shoemaker and Mireille Pardon co-authored: “Abortion Was a Crime”? Three Medievalists respond to 'English cases dating all the way back to the 13th century corroborate the treatises’ statements that abortion was a crime.' 


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

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