Richard James Bell
Associate Professor

Richard Bell joined the History Department in 2006. He received his PhD from Harvard University and his BA from the University of Cambridge. His research interests focus on American history between 1750 and 1877 and he welcomes enquiries from graduate students working in this period.

Prof. Bell has published two books. The first, a monograph titled We Shall Be No More: Suicide and Self-Government in the Newly United States, examines the role that discourse regarding self-destruction played in the cultural formation of the early republic. The second work, Buried Lives: Incarcerated in Early America, a co-edited volume of essays centered on the experience of incarcerated subjects and citizens in early America, is the product of a conference organized at the McNeil Center in 2009. Prof. Bell is currently at work upon a new book-length micro-history. The project is titled “The Lost Boys: A Story of Slavery and Justice on the Reverse Underground Railroad,” and is under contract with Simon & Schuster. Prof. Bell is also the author of several journal articles, most recently in the Journal of the Early Republic, Early American LiteratureSlavery and Abolition, and History Compass

Prof. Bell has held research fellowships at more than a dozen libraries and institutes. Since 2006 he has served as the Mellon Fellow in American History at Cambridge University, the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society, a Mayer Fellow at the Huntington Library, a Research Fellow at the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Abolition and Resistance at Yale University and as a Resident Fellow at the John W Kluge at the Library of Congress. He is also a frequent lecturer and debater on the C-Span television network.

Prof. Bell is the recipient of more than a dozen teaching awards, including the 2017 University System of Maryland Board of Regents Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching, the highest honor for teaching faculty in the Maryland state system. He is also one of the conveners of the Washington Area Early American Seminar, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Maryland Historical Society, and the Chair of the UMD United Kingdom Fellowships Committee. He lives in University Park, MD, with his wife and two daughters.

Books

“The Lost Boys: A Story of Slavery and Justice on the Reverse Underground Railroad,” a book-length embedded narrative about the trials of five free black boys kidnapped from Philadelphia in 1825 who were coffled to Mississippi for sale as slaves, only to escape, return and lead a manhunt to bring their former captors to justice. Under contract with Simon & Schuster

We Shall Be No More: Suicide and Self-Government in the Newly United States (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012). Nominated for Organization of American Historians’ Frederick Jackson Turner Award, 2012, the American Studies Association’s John Hope Franklin Publication Prize, 2012, and the American Society for Legal History’s Cromwell Book Prize, 2013. Reviewed in William and Mary QuarterlyJournal of the Early RepublicJournal of Social History, Journal of American History, Early American Literature, Early American Literature, American Nineteenth Century History, Metapsychology Review, The Historian, American Historical Review, the Boston Globe and the Times Literary Supplement.

Co-editor with Michele Lise Tarter, Buried Lives: Incarcerated in Early America (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012). Reviewed in Journal of the Early RepublicJournal of American History, American Studies, Southern Historian, Law and History Review, Choice and Reviews in American History.

Chapters in Books

With Michele Lise Tarter, “Introduction” in Buried Lives: Incarcerated in Early America, ed. Michele Lise Tarter and Richard Bell (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012): 1-32.

“Weeping for Werther: Suicide, Sympathy and the Reading Revolution in Early America” in The History of Reading: International Perspectives, c.1500-1990, ed. W. R. Owens and Shafquat Towheed (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011): 48-63.

 “John Pierce’s Pitch Pipe: Music and Myth-construction in Early National Celebrations,” in New England Celebrates: Spectacle, Commemoration, and Festivity, ed. Peter Benes (Boston: Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, 2000): 83-104.

Articles in Refereed Journals

“The Moral Thermometer: Rush, Republicanism, and Suicide,” Early American Studies 15, no. 2 (2017), 308-331.

“’Thence to Patty Cannon’s’: Gender, Family, and the Reverse Underground Railroad,” Slavery & Abolition 37, no. 1 (2016): 661-679.

“The Great Jugular Vein of Slavery: New Histories of the Domestic Slave Trade,” History Compass 11, no. 12 (2013): 1150-1164.

“Slave Suicide, Abolition and the Problem of Resistance,” Slavery & Abolition 33, no. 4 (2012): 525-549. Nominated for Arthur Miller Centre Prize, 2013.

“In Werther’s Thrall: Suicide and the Power of Sentimental Reading in Early National America,” Early American Literature 46, no. 1 (2011): 93-120. Winner of Nineteenth-Century Studies Association's Emerging Scholar Award, 2012.

 “The Double Guilt of Dueling: The Stain of Suicide in Anti-Dueling Rhetoric in the Early Republic,” Journal of the Early Republic 29, no. 3 (2009): 383-410.

“‘Our People die well’: Death-bed Scenes in John Wesley’s Arminian Magazine,” Mortality 10, no. 3 (2005): 210-223.

Office Hours: 
Monday: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
2136
Francis Scott Key Hall
301-405-7051