Paul P. Musselwhite

Associate Professor of History
Academic Appointments

Associate Professor of History

Paul Musselwhite is a historian of early America with a particular focus on the political economy of early plantation societies in North America and the Caribbean. He received a B.A. in Modern History from Lady Margaret Hall in the University of Oxford, and a PhD from the College of William and Mary. At Dartmouth he offers a range of courses that focus on the emergence of European empires in the Atlantic world, the construction of colonial societies in the seventeenth century, and the evolution of political and economic thought in British America.

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Much of Professor Musselwhite's research has focused on the history of the Chesapeake colonies of Virginia and Maryland and the evolving political structures of the early English empire in North America. His first book, Urban Dreams, Rural Commonwealth: The Rise of Plantation Society in the Chesapeake is a study of the repeated efforts on the part of colonists and English officials to establish towns and cities in the Chesapeake colonies throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It argues that the changing relationship between the city and the state in British society during this period made the issue of urban development critical to debates about the organization of colonial society. The evolving struggle between rival plans for urban development advanced by colonists and officials tapped into competing definitions of state power and economic order. Because most of these controversial plans failed to generate substantive urban growth the issue of urban development lingered in the Chesapeake and continuously shaped the political and economic foundations of plantation societies, ultimately helping to give rise to a unique planter civic vision about the state and marketplace that informed the agrarian capitalism of the slaveholding South until the American Civil War. Professor Musselwhite has been awarded fellowships by the Huntington Library and the Folger Shakespeare Library, and portions of his research have appeared in edited collections and the William and Mary Quarterly.

Questions about the political economic foundations of the plantation system also lie behind Professor Musselwhite's ongoing research into the evolution of the concept of "plantation" from a public pursuit into a private, slave-powered labor system across the English Atlantic during the seventeenth century. As part of this broader study, he is exploring the evolution of plantation naming practices in various planter societies in North America and the Caribbean. Using large databases of placenames created from land and probate records, he is developing new methods in critical typonomy to explore how spatial understandings of the "plantation" evolved, and to uncover what changing patterns of naming can tell us about planters' self-perceptions of the status and the system of exploitation they were building. He is also organizing a conference and scholarly collection commemorating the 400th anniversary of the events of 1619 in Virginia, which marked the arrival of the first Africans to British North America and also the gathering of the first legislative assembly in British America.

Professor Musselwhite also has an interest in the sensory history of early America and had edited a collection of essays that seeks to bring sensory history into dialogue with Atlantic imperial history.  

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310 Carson Hall
HB 6107
B.A. University of Oxford
Ph.D. College of William and Mary

Selected Publications

Urban Dreams, Rural Commonwealth: The Rise of Plantation Society in the Chesapeake (University of Chicago Press, 2018)

Virginia 1619: Slavery and Freedom in the Making of English America - co-edited with Peter C. Mancall and James Horn (University of North Carolina Press, 2019)

Empires of the Senses: Sensory Practices of Colonialism in Early America – co-edited with Daniela Hacke (Brill, 2017)

"Annapolis Aflame: Richard Clarke’s Conspiracy and the Imperial Urban Vision in Maryland, 1704–8," William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser., 71, no. 3 (July 2014): 361-400.

“‘This infant Borough’: The Corporate Political Identity of Eighteenth-Century Norfolk” Early American Studies (forthcoming)

“‘Like a Wild Desart’: Building a Contested Urban Sensescape in the Atlantic World” in Robert Beck, Ulrike Krampl, and Emmanuelle Retaillaud-Bajac, eds., Les Cinq Sens de la Ville: Du Moyen Âge à Nos Jours (Tours: Presses Universitaires François-Rabelais, 2013).

“‘What town’s this Boy?’ English Civic Politics, Virginia’s Urban Debate, and Aphra Behn’s The Widow Ranter,” Atlantic Studies 8.3 (September 2011): 279-99.  

Works in progress

Plantation: From Public Project to Private Enterprise