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 North American colonization 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 arrived at Cambridge from a postdoctoral fellowship at the Harvard Society of Fellows.

Subject groups/Research projects

American History:

Research Interests

My research combines archival digging with digital techniques in geospatial analysis. I’m using this approach to write a history of US expansion by Indian treaty. The book focuses on an important but obscure institution—the St. Louis Superintendency—whose administration of the Indian treaty line in the antebellum Missouri River Valley influenced a string of well-known events, from the Lewis and Clark expedition to Bleeding Kansas. By restoring those connections, the project illuminates how Indian 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 has 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.

Research Supervision

I welcome inquiries from prospective postgraduate students interested in themes of contact, encounter, conquest, and colonization in North America from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. Students of the American West, environmental history, Native American 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

“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

“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.