Meg E. Roberts

PhD candidate in Early American History

I am a PhD candidate in American History at Newnham College, researching caregiving, disability and health crises during the American Revolutionary War. My doctoral dissertation explores the effect of heightened levels of injury and disease on Pennsylvania’s care communities during wartime and the role of coerced labor in the functioning of late eighteenth-century American care networks. The project is supervised by Dr Sarah Pearsall and supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and a Cambridge Trust Vice Chancellor’s Award. I completed my MPhil in American History in Cambridge in 2018, supervised by Dr Nicholas Guyatt, and my BA in History at the University of Sheffield (2016), supervised by Dr Simon Middleton and Dr Andrew Heath.

My archival research has been generously supported by the following fellowships:

  • Friends Dissertation Fellowship, 2023-24, McNeil Center for Early American Studies, University of Pennsylvania
  • Three-month residential fellowship, 2023-24, George Washington Presidential Library at Mount Vernon
  • Gest Fellowship, 2023-24, Quaker & Special Collections, Haverford College
  • Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati Fellowship, 2022-23, American Revolution Institute at the Society of the Cincinnati
  • William H. Helfand Fellowship in American Medicine, Science, and Society, 2020-21, Historical Society of Pennsylvania & Library Company of Philadelphia
  • David Center for the American Revolution Fellowship, 2020-21, American Philosophical Society
  • Robert M. & Annetta J. Coffelt and Robert M. Coffelt Jr. Fellowship, 2020-21, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
  • Kluge Fellowship, AHRC International Placement Scheme, 2020-2021, John W. Kluge Center, Library of Congress

My doctoral project approaches the American Revolutionary War as a health crisis, and centres caregivers and the details and dynamics of their labour to explore the relationship between crisis and coercion in the trajectory of the war. Simultaneously mundane and urgent, intimate and potentially violent, caregiving labour underpinned the very survival of the Continental Army. Care work in the eighteenth century was disproportionally performed by housewives, children, and precariously employed, indentured, or enslaved women. Their experiences are largely absent from the written archive, but become more tangible when examining the objects and practices they may have used – whether they used warming pans or heated bricks, family remedies or apothecary drugs. 

Broadly, I am interested in histories of health, disability, and labour, in eighteenth/nineteenth-century North America and Britain. My forthcoming article in the Journal of the Early Republic examines the relationship between disability and manufacturing labour in the Early American Republic, interpreting 'capacity for labour' as a functional metric used to organise manufacturing work prior to the widespread use of 'disability' as an identity category. I co-founded and co-convene the Cambridge Disability History Reading Group, and sit on the Editorial Board of the Disability History Association's All of Us blog. 

The emphasis on material culture in my doctoral research is informed by professional and voluntary work in the museum sector. I have collaborated with multiple museums on projects working to decolonize and queer their collections, including the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Whipple Museum of the History of Science. I spent three months in Spring 2021 as an AHRC Research Intern at the University of Cambridge Museums, working with the Whipple Museum to research exhibition content on the history of scientific racism, connections between scientific discovery and the slave trade, and the influence of eugenics and colonial ideology in British educational materials in the early 1900s. I have also worked with the University of Cambridge Department of Public Health & Primary Care to produce interdisciplinary research on LGBTQ+ experiences in the health sector. 

Paper 22: North American History from ca. 1500 to 1865, Michaelmas 2020 (Supervisions and Guest Lecture)

Historical Argument and Practice Workshops, Lent 2021 (Race), Michaelmas 2021 (Gender and Sexuality)

American History/Disability History

'Care in the City: Urban Army Hospitals and Community Care Work in Revolutionary Philadelphia', War Stories: Conflict in the Atlantic World 1600-1850' conference, McNeil Center for Early American Studies, Nov 2022. 

‘The Reprioritisation of Care in Revolutionary Philadelphia, Winter 1776-1777’, Atlantic History Seminar, Johns Hopkins University, Nov 2022.

'“To Have The Bed Made”: Invisible Labor and the Material Culture of Nursing in the Revolutionary War', The American Revolution Institute at the Society of the Cincinnati, August 2022.

'Arenas of Care and the Health Crisis of the American Revolutionary War', Virtual Brown Bag talk, American Philosophical Society, March 2022.

'Shots, Pots, and Pox: Caregiving in Williamsburg during the American Revolutionary War', John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library Fellows' Forum, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, January 2022.

''Useful Members of Society’: Work and Capacity in Deaf and Blind Schools, 1817-1840', 2021 Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife: Living with Disabilities in New England, 1630-1930, Historic Deerfield, June 2021. 

'Care and Crisis in the American Revolutionary War', The Social Life of Care conference, CRASSH, University of Cambridge, May 2021. 

'Domestic Caregiving in the American Revolutionary War', Virtual Fellows' Colloquia series, Library Company of Philadelphia, Feb 2021.

''As Far As They Have Capacity For Labour': Work and Disability in the Early American Republic', British Group of Nineteenth Century American Historians PG/ECR summer workshops, July 2020.

'Work, Manufacturing and Disability in the Early Republic', Oxford Early American Republic Seminar, Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford, Oct 2018. 

'Race and Policing in the Nineteenth Century Metropolis' (co-authored with Dr Andrew Heath), Race, Policing and Legitimacy Symposium, Department of Law, University of Sheffield, June 2016. 

Queer History and Museums

'The Queer History of the Top Hat: A New Framework’, Out Loud: Celebrating LGBTQ+ Research in Newnham's MCR, Newnham College, Feb 2021.

'Queering the Collections: Approaches to LGBTQ+ Representation in Museums', Group for Education in Museums, Oct 2020.

'The Top Hat: A Queer History in Britain since 1800', Writing Queer Lives Colloquium, Oxford Centre For Life-Writing, Wolfson College, University of Oxford, Feb 2020. 

'A Queer History of Top Hats', Queer Clothes: Sartorial Non-Conformity & Gender Expression, Cambridge Queer History Month, Newnham College, Feb 2020. 

Conferences and Workshops

Cambridge Disability History Reading Group, University of Cambridge - co-founder/co-convener, 2021-present. 

'The Ideal Body': Perceptions of Perfection from Early Modernity to the Present conference, University of Cambridge -  co-organiser, July 2020.

Cambridge Body and Food Histories Group (fortnightly lectures, workshops and reading groups) - co-convener, 2019-21. 

Writing Queer Lives colloquiumOxford Centre For Life-Writing, Wolfson College, University of Oxford - organiser, Feb 2020.


Tags & Themes


Newnham College, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge, CB3 9DF




'‘Capacity for Labor’, Work, and Disability in the Early Republic, 1791-1833', Journal of the Early Republic (forthcoming)

‘Useful Members of Society’: Work and Capacity in Deaf and Blind Schools, 1817-1840’, Annual Proceedings of the Dublin Seminar for New-England Folklife: ‘Living with Disabilities in New England’ (forthcoming, June 2023)

Co-Authored Interdisciplinary Articles

Saunders CL, Berner A, Lund J, et al, 'Demographic characteristics, long-term health conditions and healthcare experiences of 6333 trans and non-binary adults in England: nationally representative evidence from the 2021 GP Patient Survey'BMJ Open 13 (2023)

'The Health and Healthcare Outcomes of Trans and/or Non-Binary Adults in England: Protocol for an Analysis of Responses to the 2021 GP Patient Survey'Sexes 3 (2022), 325-335. 

'Are we asking the right questions? Working with the LGBTQ+ community to prioritise healthcare research'Research Involvement and Engagement 7 (September, 2021). 


'Shots, Pots, and Pox: Researching Caregiving in Williamsburg during the Revolutionary War', Colonial Williamsburg Foundation blog (July 2022)

'Inspiration Porn and Depictions of Impairment in Early America', Public Disability History blog (July 2021)

‘Gender, Sexuality and the Top Hat’ teaching resource for KS3 students (age 11-14), Cambridge History for Schools outreach (2021-2022)

'Old Sheffield Plate Toaster' (2020) and 'Against Idleness Mug' (2019), Material Culture Advent Calendar, Doing History in Public blog