skip to primary navigationskip to content

Dr Robert Lee

Dr Robert Lee

University lecturer in American History

Faculty of History
West Road

Cambridge CB3 9EF


I’m an historian of the United States with a PhD in History from the University of California, Berkeley, an MA in American Studies from the Universität Heidelberg, and a BA in History and Economics from Columbia University. My research focuses on land tenure, state formation, and US-Indian relations in the nineteenth century American West. I came to Cambridge from the Harvard Society of Fellows.

Subject groups/Research projects

American History:

Research Interests

My research focuses on North American colonization, mostly in the nineteenth century. I’m currently writing a history of US expansion by Indian treaty, using an approach that combines archival digging with spatial analysis in GIS. The book focuses on an important but obscure institution—the St. Louis Superintendency—whose administration of the Indian treaty line influenced a string of well-known events, from the Lewis and Clark expedition to Bleeding Kansas. By restoring those connections, the project illuminates how dispossession by treaty shaped the development of the United States. An article growing out of this study, “Accounting for Conquest: The Price of the Louisiana Purchase of Indian Country,” appeared in The Journal of American History, and received awards from the Organization of American Historians, the Western History Association, and the Society for History in the Federal Government. That piece also forms the first in a series of articles I’m working on that use GIS to revisit longstanding questions about the territorial and demographic history of the American West. The latest of these projects, “Land-Grab Universities,” detailed how Indigenous land funded land-grant colleges across the United States.

Research Supervision

I welcome inquiries from prospective postgraduate students interested in themes of encounter, conquest, and colonization in North America from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. Students of the American West, environmental history, Indigenous history, the history of the state, settler colonialism, frontiers and borderlands, spatial history, and digital methodologies more generally are also encouraged to contact me.


I teach Paper 22 (American History to 1865), supervise Part II dissertations on early American and nineteenth century topics, and teach and supervise for the MPhil in American History.


  • American History

Key Publications, launched April 2020. Produced with Tristan Ahtone, Margaret Pearce, Kalen Goodluck, Geoff McGhee, Cody Leff, Katherine Lanpher and Taryn Salinas.

“Land-Grab Universities,” High Country News, March 30, 2020. Co-authored with Tristan Ahtone.

“Accounting for Conquest: The Price of the Louisiana Purchase of Indian Country,” Journal of American History 104, no. 4 (March 2017): 921-942.

          * Binkley-Stephenson Award for best article in the Journal of American History

          * Bolton-Cutter Award for best article on any phase of the history of the North American Borderlands

          * James Madison Prize for excellence in an article on the US federal government

          * Louis Pelzer Award for best essay in American History by a graduate student

“The ‘Disciplined Imagination’: Karl Bodmer’s Expeditionary Art as Historical Documents,” in Katharina Erhard and Karsten Fitz, eds., Visual Representations of Native Americans: Transnational Contexts and Perspectives (Heidelberg: Winter Verlag, 2012).

Other Publications

"How we investigated the land-grant university system," High Country News, March 30, 2020.

"Further reading on HCN’s land-grants university investigation," High Country News, March 30, 2020.

"Morrill Act of 1862 Indigenous Land Parcels Database," GitHub, March 2020.

"The True Cost of the Louisiana Purchase," Slate, March 1, 2017.

"Federal Disbursements for Indian Title in the Louisiana Territory, 1804-2012," The Magazine of Early American Datasets (MEAD), February 6, 2017.