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Centre of African Studies


I am a historian of early North America with a particular interest in the origins, events, and consequences of the American Revolution. I have a PhD in History at the University of Cambridge. I also have a Bachelor of Economics and a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in History from the University of Sydney in Australia.


My research primarily looks at the politics of naming: the act of labelling persons, groups, and events and the power relations and cultural changes that process involves and reveals. I applied this approach in my doctoral thesis, which explored the politics of epithets – identity terms (like “patriot,” “republican,” and “American”) that people at the time used to describe themselves, build bonds of belonging, and label their opponents – from the start of the imperial crisis in 1763 through to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. My first book, provisionally titled Fighting Words in the American Revolution, 1763-87, will develop these ideas further. This research has been generously supported by the David Library of the American Revolution, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, International Centre for Jefferson Studies, Virginia Museum of History and Culture, and William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan, among others. I am also applying my expertise in the American Revolution and its aftermath as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow for the Legacies of Enslavement inquiry at Cambridge. I am using my knowledge of slavery and abolition in this period to examine the education of slaveholders (including three signatories to the Declaration of Independence) at Cambridge, and the crucial role of those students in the West India lobby, which defended slavery until the institution’s abolition throughout the British Empire in 1833. I am also interested in the role of Cambridge fellows and alumni in perpetuating proslavery and racial thought from the creation of the Virginia Company in 1606 until the rise of eugenics and the new racial science in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


Nicolas Bell-Romero is completing a PhD in early American history at the University of Cambridge. His dissertation is titled 'The Politics of Epithets in the American Revolution, 1763-87'. Far from throwaway insults, this thesis and book project shows that epithets, such as 'patriot' or 'American', were important titles and identity terms that represented the standards and social values that the inhabitants of both Britain and America thought they should strive toward. Due to their importance, the Revolution was engulfed in a war over words as contemporaries, including white women, indigenous peoples, and African-descended persons, battled over who merited specific epithets. Through an examination of these keywords in a variety of printed and material sources, this project reorients how scholars discuss the themes of allegiances, identity, and equality in the Revolutionary period.

This research expertise, which combines elements of social, cultural, and intellectual history, will be applied in his role as a postdoctoral research associate for the legacies of enslavement inquiry. He will use his archival knowledge of North American slavery and abolition to examine the education of slaveholders (including three signatories to the Declaration) at Cambridge, the University’s central role in global knowledge networks that underpinned and perpetuated enslavement, and the role of Cambridge abolitionists in creating a narrative that attacked 'American slavery', but, in framing enslavement as an 'American' problem, allowed Britons to distance themselves from culpability for the British Empire’s worst excesses, including Caribbean slavery and Britain’s role in the Atlantic slave trade.

Legacies of Enslavement project Research Fellow
 Nicholas  Bell-Romero

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