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Dr Jonathan Bell

Areas of interest

My main area of specialization is the political history of the United States since the Great Depression, and in particular the relationship between political ideas and social change. I work mainly on the politics of the post-1945 era, looking at ways in which the theory and practice of liberalism and conservatism changed in the three decades after 1929. My first book discussed the political world of the USA during the Truman presidency, but my work deals with broad themes in US history that extend beyond that period. I recently completed a book exploring the ways in which the United States experienced and understood social democratic political ideas in the 1950s and 1960s, using the state of California as a case study. I am particularly keen to explore the relationships between different liberal interest groups and their overlapping strategies of deploying similar ideological appeals to boost their political clout. I have co-edited a collection of essays on American liberalism and the reform impulse in the twentieth century. I am now working on a project examining the relationships between health care, the state, and the idea of "minorities" in the twentieth century. I am also interested in the relationship between foreign policy and domestic politics.

Postgraduate supervision

I have supervised a PhD student to completion in the subject of working in American farmers and the politics of consumerism in the 1940's and 1950's. I welcome enquiries from students interested in topics related to the political history of the USA since 1917, especially the history of political ideas, intellectual history, and the relationship between foreign and domestic policy.


In addition to the Part I courses 'Approaches to History', in which I offer the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk as my core text, and 'Landmarks in History', I teach a survey course 'American State and Society and the Wider World, 1890-1990', an optional course 'Popular Protest and Political Change in America, 1930-1980', and a special subject entitled 'The New Deal: The USA and the Legacy of the Great Depression'. I teach an MA option entitled 'Attitudes to public welfare in the United States since 1900'. I am a convenor of the IHR/ISA American history seminar: and am a founder member and vice-chair of the Historians of the Twentieth-Century United States. I am on the steering committee of the research theme at Reading. I serve on the AHRC peer review college.

Selected publications


  • California Crucible: The Forging of Modern American Liberalism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012)
  • The Liberal State on Trial: The Cold War and American Politics in the Truman Years (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004)
  • ed. with Tim Stanley, Making Sense of American Liberalism (University of Illinois Press, 2012)

Articles and chapters:

  • Jonathan Bell, 'Debating Political Consensus Post World War Two', in robert J.Allison (ed.), History in Dispute Volume II: American Social and Political Movements 1945-2000: Pursuit of Liberty (Columbia, S.C:Manly, Inc., 2000)
  • Jonathan Bell, 'Edward Costigan: Senator from Colorado', Encyclopedia of the Great Depression (New York: Macmillan Reference, 2002)
  • Jonathan Bell, 'The New Deal', Dictionary of Liberal Thought (London: Methuen/Politico's, 2006)
  • Jonathan Bell, entries in Cambridge Dictionary of Modern World History (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming)
  • Jonathan Bell, 'To strive for economic and social justice': Welfare, sexuality, and liberal politics in San Francisco in the 1960s, Journal of Policy History, Spring 2010.
  • 'Conceptualising Southern Liberalism: Ideology and the Pepper v Smathers 1950 Senate Campaign in Florida', Journal of American Studies, 17:1 (April 2003), 17-45.
  • 'The Changing Dynamics of American Liberalism: Paul Douglas and the Elections of 1948', Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 96:4,Winter 2003-2004, 368-393.
  • 'Social Democracy and the Rise of the Democratic Party in California, 1950-1964', Historical Journal, 49, 2, June 2006, 497-524.
  • 'Social Politics in a transoceanic world in the early Cold War years', Historical Journal, 53, 2 (June 2010), 1-21


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