Dr Robert Lee

Associate Professor
Dr Robert Lee

I’m a historian of the United States focused on Indigenous dispossession and US state formation in the nineteenth century American West. I have a PhD in History from the University of California, Berkeley, an MA in American Studies from the University of Heidelberg, and a BA in History and Economics from Columbia University. Before I came to Cambridge I was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows.

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.

I was the PI for “Land-Grab Universities,” a multimedia history-journalism collaboration that detailed how Indigenous land funded land-grant colleges across the United States. This project produced articles, a website, and a public geodatabase that have motivated investigations at several land-grant colleges and received prizes for digital history, Native American history, and investigative journalism. Interactive maps and data can be explored at landgrabu.org.

Most recently, a follow-up investigation - "Misplaced Trust" - extended the landgrabu research to analyse state trust lands benefiting land-grant universities.

I welcome inquiries from prospective postgraduate students interested in the colonization of North America, the American West, environmental history, Indigenous history, and digital humanities.

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.


Tags & Themes


Faculty of History
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9EF

Twitter @Bobby_L33


Key Publications

"'A Better View of the Country': A Missouri Settlement Map by William Clark," William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 79, no. 1 (Jan. 2022): 89-120.

     * Michael P. Malone Award; Dorothy Schwieder Prize

“Looking Forward from Land-Grab Universities,” Native American and Indigenous Studies Journal 8, no. 1 (Spring 2021): 176-182. Co-authored with Tristan Ahtone.

“The Boon’s Lick Land Rush and the Coming of the Missouri Crisis,” in Jeffrey Pasley and John Craig Hammond, eds., A Fire Bell in the Past: The Missouri Crisis at 200 (University of Missouri Press, 2021), 77-112.

“Land-Grab Universities,” High Country News, 52, no. 4 (April 2020): 32-45. Co-authored with Tristan Ahtone.

     * George Polk Award; Roy Rosenzweig Prize; Arrell M. Gibson Award; IRE Award; Richard LaCourse Award; Sigma Data Journalism Award; National Magazine Award Finalist; Society for News Design Award of Excellence; Library Company Innovation Award Honorable Mention

“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; Bolton-Cutter Award; James Madison Prize; Louis Pelzer Award

“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 land-grant universities still profiting off Indigenous homelands,” High Country News, August 18, 2020. Co-authored with Kalen Goodluck and Tristan Ahtone.

“Exposing How US Universities Profited from Indigenous Land,” Global Investigative Journalism Network, May 19, 2020. Co-authored with Tristan Ahtone.

“Ask Who Paid for America’s Universities,” New York Times, May 7, 2020. Co-authored with Tristan Ahtone.

"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.

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


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