Professor Ottaway is a historian of Early Modern Europe who focuses on the history of aging, poverty, social welfare and the family. She grew up in the Hudson River Valley, and then came to the Midwest to get her BA at Carleton College before returning to the East Coast for her MA and PhD studies at Brown University. She returned to Carleton as an assistant professor in 1998, and teaches courses on the French Enlightenment and Revolution, Irish history, Early Modern Britain, and the History of Poverty and Social Welfare, as well as survey courses on Early Modern Europe.
Her career as a historian of old age and social welfare began in a nursing home for the elderly in Northfield, Minnesota, where, as an undergraduate at Carleton, she volunteered in an “Adopt-A-Grandparent” program from 1987 to 1989. That experience forced her to confront the misery of a brilliant but physically incapacitated “grandma” caught in an unpleasant institution, and ever since, she has sought to understand why some societies treat the elderly in ways that lead to their marginalization and isolation in institutions like the one she visited weekly during her undergraduate years. The book that emerged out of her graduate research into the history of old age in eighteenth-century England was The Decline of Life: Old Age in Eighteenth-Century England, published by Cambridge University Press in 2004.
Professor Ottaway’s work on old age has also resulted in a volume of essays, co-edited with Lynn Botelho and Katharine Kittredge in 2002 Power and Poverty in the Pre-industrial Past, and an eight-volume edition of sources, History of Old Age in England from 1600-1800, with Lynn Botelho, Anne Kugler and Ingrid Tague, printed in 2008 and 2009.
Her current research focuses on the history of institutions for the poor, and she is completing a book manuscript that is a narrative history of the workhouse in England in the long eighteenth century (c. 1660-1834).