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American History

Subject Group

Convenor: Professor Gary Gerstle

Web Officer: 


With ten permanent academic staff, a visiting Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions, three emeriti, and several junior research fellows in residence, Cambridge possesses one of the largest and most vigorous assemblies of scholars in American history outside of the United States.  The staff is strong across the entire span of American history, from the seventeenth century to the present, and from social, cultural, and borderlands history to the history of politics, political thought, and foreign relations.  The course on American History is one of the most popular of the undergraduate options in Part I of the Historical Tripos.  There is a thriving MPhil in American History, and a lively and diverse community of PhD students working on a broad range of topics. PhDs from the programme have been appointed to posts in US history throughout Britain.  The subject group is led by Gary Gerstle, Paul Mellon Professor of American History, who succeeded Professor Anthony Badger in this post in October 2014.

2016 US Election

For events, media, and articles relating to the US Election visit our 2016 US Election web page.

Cambridge American History Seminar

The Cambridge American History Seminar meets on Mondays, during term, in Sidney Sussex College, from 5pm. In a typical year, twenty or more scholars drawn from universities across the UK, Europe, and the US present new and unpublished research to this seminar.  Professor Gerstle convenes these meetings, which are open to all scholars and graduate students in Cambridge and beyond interested in American history.  The roster of speakers last year and this include David Hollinger, Sven Beckert, Brian Ward, Jonathan Bell, Robin Einhorn, Stephen Tuck, Margaret Jacobs, Michael Kazin, Marie-Jeanne Rossignol, Gareth Stedman Jones, Kristin Hoganson, Pekka Hämäläinen, Loic Wacquant, Eric Foner, Alan Taylor, Simon Newman, George Chauncey, and Sally Gordon.

For more information on CAHS, please contact Jonathan Goodwin at jmg216@cam.ac.uk.

Or visit the webpage.

The Pitt Professorship

Since its establishment in the 1940s, the Pitt Professorship has brought to Cambridge many of the most distinguished US-based scholars working on American history and social science.  The ranks of Pitt historians include Henry Steele Commager, Daniel Boorstin, John Hope Franklin, Eugene Genovese, Bernard Bailyn, Gordon Wood, Richard Hofstadter, Eric Foner, Mary Beth Norton, James Patterson, Daniel Rodgers, Nancy Hewitt, James Kloppenberg, Alan Brinkley, David Blight, and Margaret Jacobs.  The 2016-2017 Pitt Professor is Loïc Wacquant, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley, a MacArthur Prize winner and an acclaimed expert on race and the carceral state in the United States.

Mellon Research Fellow 

The faculty regularly appoints a postdoctoral Mellon Research Fellow to pursue original and significant research in American history. A fellow can hold the post for three years.  The current Mellon Fellow is Dr. Seth Archer, who earned his PhD at University of California-Riverside and whose revised dissertation, “Sharks Upon the Land: Epidemics and Culture in Hawai’i, 1778-1855,” will be published by Cambridge University Press. Past Mellon Fellows include Katharina Rietzler, now at University of Sussex; Elizabeth Shermer of Loyola University (Chicago); Jay Sexton of the University of Missouri; Francois Furstenberg of Johns Hopkins University; Emily Clark of Tulane University; Tim Minchin of La Trobe University (Australia); and Sarah Pearsall of Cambridge. 

Graduate Workshops

The American History Graduate Workshop offers graduate students an opportunity to share and improve their academic writing through constructive peer review.  The workshop also organises discussions of seminal historical texts and methodologies and sponsors academic skills sessions. Each year concludes with a conference at which graduate students present work-in-progress to a combined student/faculty audience. Dr. Seth Archer is convening the graduate workshop in 2016-2017.

Conferences and Colloquia

The Mellon Professorial Fund supports a large number and variety of conferences, most recently, “Marriage’s Global Past” and “Freedom and Coercion in Early America,”  The biannual conference of the British Group of Early American Historians (BGEAH), both of which were organised by Sarah Pearsall. Gary Gerstle and Joel Isaac organised  ‘States of Exception in American History’ in 2015.  Other past conferences included those on civil rights, the New Deal, transnational influences on American history, political culture in the Early Republic, indigenous and borderlands history, and Southern Women’s History. 

Cambridge was instrumental in launching and funding both BGEAH (founded by Dr. Betty Wood) and the Association of British American Nineteenth Century Historians (BrANCH).  A new Consortium on the History of State and Society has been established, bringing together scholars at Cambridge, the American University of Paris, the University of Chicago, and the University of Michigan.  Another consortium with Princeton University and Boston University supports an annual conference in American political history. Cambridge has also hosted conferences of the British Association for American Studies, the European Southern Studies Forum, and the Southern Intellectual History Circle.

The Mellon Fund also provides financial support for an exchange programme for graduate students in American History at Cambridge and the History Department at Boston University.  Other collaborations are currently under development.


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Upcoming events

Civil Wars: A History in Ideas. A Colloquium with David Armitage

Jun 26, 2017

Bateman Theatre, Gonville & Caius College

Alternatives to free trade

Jul 08, 2017

JCR TV Room, Sidney Sussex College

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