Thomas E. Donnelly Professor of British History and the College
Faculty Member, Nicholson Center for British Studies
Faculty Member, Renaissance Studies
On Research Leave, 2019–20
PhD'90 Harvard University
AB'84 Dartmouth College
The University of Chicago
Department of History
1126 E. 59th Street, Mailbox 28
Chicago, IL 60637
Social Science Research Building, room 505 – Office
(773) 702-9653 – Office telephone
(773) 702-7550 – Fax
Atlantic history; history of Britain; British Empire; history of Ireland; global history; early American history; history of the Netherlands; worldwide colonial rivalries of seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; history of political economy; British Empire in South Asia; comparative revolutions; state formation; Industrial Revolution
I am a historian of Britain and its Empire, of comparative revolutions, comparative empires, and of northern Europe more broadly. I am both a deeply committed archival historian and a scholar who believes profoundly that historians should engage with the social sciences. My first book, Protestantism and Patriotism, was an entangled and comparative study of English and Dutch politics, culture, and society in the mid-seventeenth century. I traced the decline of apocalyptic thinking and the rise of notions of political economy in England and the Dutch Republic. My second major monograph, 1688: The First Modern Revolution, offered both a major revisionist account of England's Glorious Revolution and a reappraisal of the literature on revolutions more broadly. I showed that far from being an unrevolutionary revolution, the Revolution of 1688 radically transformed English state and society. The revolution, I suggest, can only be understood by placing it in a European and global context. Since 1688 was a radical revolution, I suggest, it is imperative to rethink the nature of revolutions since so much of that literature assumed that the later eighteenth-century French Revolution was the first modern revolution. My third monograph, The Heart of the Declaration, argued that by placing the American Revolution and its seminal document, the Declaration of Independence, in an imperial rather than proto-national context it becomes clear that Americans broke away from Britain not because they resented the imperial state but because they wanted a different kind of state—one that would actively promote social and economic prosperity and equality.
I am currently engaged in a number of research projects. For the past decade I have been working on a Global History of the British Empire, ca. 1650–1784. This book, based on research in a wide range of European, North American, and West Indian archives, insists that the British imperial state was just as institutional strong if structurally distinct, from its rivals. Throughout the empire Britons debated and fought over the kind of imperial state they wanted. Some wanted to focus on a political economy that privileged colonial production over one that emphasized colonial consumption; some wanted an empire that favored England, while others thought the empire should be organized as a confederation; some thought chattel slavery was essential to the prosperity of the empire while others decried cattle slavery as economically and morally deleterious; some thought the empire should protect and promote the development of indigenous peoples, while others thought indigenous peoples were a barrier to imperial development. I insist that accounts of the colonies that focus on the binary relationship between a particular colony or set of colonies and Britain will necessarily misunderstand that relationship. The British Empire can only be understood as a global phenomenon. It is essential to think the empire whole. I am working on a second monograph, Partners in Revolution, that compares the Irish Revolution of 1782 and the American Revolution. I highlight the social, cultural, and ideological similarities between the Irish and American situations. The book explains why Americans severed ties with the British Empire and the Irish did not. I suggest that one of the consequences of the abortive Irish Revolution was that the re-emergence of confessional divisions in Ireland. Finally, I am working on a set of essays (maybe a book) with James Robinson of Harris Public Policy, trying to explain British divergence: why was it that Britain, and not China, India, France, or the Dutch Republic, became the first industrial nation? Why did the British state take the distinctive form that it did?
My research has been supported over the years with fellowships from the Harvard Society of Fellows, the ACLS, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center, the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the American Philosophical Society. I has been a visitor at All Souls College (Oxford), EHESS (Paris), IMT (Lucca) and the University of Warwick.
I am deeply committed to both undergraduate and graduate education. I am happy to supervise senior theses and doctoral dissertations on any topic in British history, the history of the British Empire, Atlantic history, Dutch history, political economy, revolutions, comparative empires, history of European ideas, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century religious history, and the cultural history of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe.
I have supervised over twenty doctoral dissertations covering a wide range of topics. Some topics have included the origins of humanitarianism in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe, the rise of the Patriot party in the eighteenth-century British Empire, the emergence of associational life in the British Empire, the East India Company and the emergence of British India, politics of the navy and the British Empire, the transformation of British India in the late eighteenth century, the Anglo-French-Indian struggle for the Ohio Valley, British imperial indigenous policy in Scotland, North America, and Bengal, the high church reaction to the Revolution of 1688, the remaking of the Church of England after the Act of Toleration, the Scottish Kirk in the early eighteenth century, the rise of opera in Britain, the making of the English Caribbean in the late seventeenth century, British monetary policy in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the rise of slave labor in the British Empire, Leisler's Rebellion and its consequences, British party politics in the early eighteenth century, the persistence of Catholicism in the British Empire, and many more.
I am a co-convenor of the HIstory and Social Sciences and the Empires and the Atlantics forums.
The Heart of the Declaration: The Founders’ Case for Activist Government. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,, 2016.
co-edited with Peter Lake. The Politics of the Public Sphere in Early Modern England: Public Persons and Popular Spirits. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012
1688:The First Modern Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.
- Morris D. Forkosch Prize, American Historical Association
- Gustav Ranis International Book Prize, Yale MacMillan Center
- Bronze Medal, Independent Publisher Book Awards
England’s Glorious Revolution 1688–1689: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2006
co-edited with Alan Houston. A Nation Transformed: England after the Restoration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Protestantism and Patriotism: Ideologies and the Making of English Foreign Policy, 1650–1668. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
—Discusses "How the Radical Aims of the American Revolutionaries Are Relevant Today," Valdai Discussion Club, June 8, 2017 [video, 94 mins]
—Delivers "The Founders' Case for Strong Government," George Washington Forum, Ohio University, February 23, 2017 [video, 81 mins]