Rob Bates

PhD Candidate

Rob Bates is a doctoral candidate in U.S. History. His research, supervised by Professor Gary Gerstle, comprises a major reconsideration of the United States Pension Bureau and the program of pensions provided for veterans of the American Civil War.

Prior to coming to Cambridge, he studied at the University of Newcastle, where his undergraduate thesis won the Peter Parish prize awarded by the British American Nineteenth-Century Historians (BrANCH). His PhD is funded by the AHRC and Queens' College and he is also the holder of an Honorary Vice Chancellors' Scholarship. In 2019 Rob held a Kluge Fellowship at the Library of Congress. He is also the holder of a Frank Knox Memorial Visiting Fellowship at Harvard University, which he will take up in 2021-2022.

The system of pensions established in the United States for veterans of the Civil War has often been seen as emblematic of the American state's transformation during the post-war period. By sequestering the U.S. Pension Bureau within a narrative that chronicles the rise and fall of an incipient American welfare state, however, historians have overlooked alternative yet significant aspects of its evolution.

My research reconsiders the Pension Bureau's place within American state development during the final third of the nineteenth century. Though historians charting the growth of federal authority in the post-war period have customarily highlighted the escalating demand on the Federal budget and increasing number of citizens pulled into the purview of the Pension Bureau, they have been less inclined to explore the parallel emergence of its investigatory and law enforcement capacities or the internal institutional logics which guided their development. This project considers the Civil War pension system within the context of a system of governance that was both fragmented and frequently improvised, and which, in an age of reconstruction, reflected the manifold conflicts and contingencies attendant upon the development of central state authority.


Tags & Themes



‘Government by Improvisation? Towards a New History of the Nineteenth-Century American State’ Journal of Policy History 33 (July 2021), pp. 287-316.

Review: Civic Gifts: Voluntarism and the Making of the American Nation-State by Elisabeth Clemens, Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (2021).

Review: Engines of Redemption: Railroads and the Reconstruction of Capitalism in the New South by R. Scott Huffard Jr., American Nineteenth-Century History, 21 (2020).

Review: Brahmin Capitalism: Frontiers of Wealth and Populism in America's First Gilded Age by Noam Maggor, American Nineteenth-Century History, 20 (2019).

"The Ideal Home of the South": The Robert E. Lee Camp Confederate Soldiers' Home and the Institutionalization of Confederate Veterans in Virginia, American Nineteenth-Century History, 17 (2016).