UCL Institute of the Americas


Professor Jonathan Bell

Professor Jonathan Bell


Professor of US History

Recipient of Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship: on research leave until September 2024


Jonathan Bell arrived at UCL in 2014 as Professor of US History and Director of the Institute of the Americas. Prior to coming to the Institute he was an Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Reading, including four years as Head of Department. He gained his BA degree from the University of Oxford and his PhD from the University of Cambridge, and spent a year as a research student at the University of Maryland.

He is a historian of US politics, with a particular emphasis on American liberalism since the New Deal and the ways in which liberal politics have adapted to social change during the twentieth century. He has published widely in US political history, including a book on how the Cold War transformed American political discourse and policy formation on domestic issues during the Truman Presidency, a collection of essays on American liberalism, and a book charting the changing political complexion of California since World War Two.

Research Summary

His current project, tentatively entitled Unhealthy Bodies: Health Care and the Rights Revolution since the Sixties, aims to unite the two phenomena of rights politics and health care delivery politics to help us understand how the sexual and gender dynamics of medical care in the US shed significant light on the political culture of the nation at a time of significant political change in the era of government and health care retrenchment that began in the seventies and grew considerably in the Reagan era. The project shows that both state and private conceptions of gender and sexuality impacted upon their ability to provide health care to a diverse population, and demonstrates how a private-public delivery system drastically impacted upon the ability of rights movements to translate basic legal rights into full-blown economic citizenship, a question of vital public importance today on both sides of the Atlantic.

Professor Bell’s research is currently supported by a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship (2022-2024).

Teaching Summary


AMER0046 Protest Politics in the USA from the New Deal to Trump

Post Graduate Taught:

AMER0019 From Skid Row to Obamacare: The Politics of Social Welfare in the United States since 1900

AMER0043 Challenging the Straight State: Regulation, Repression, and Resistance in US Sexual Politics

Research Supervision:

Professor Bell would like to hear from any student interested in pursuing graduate study in the areas of US political history, policy history (in particular the relationship between gender and sexuality and public policy), and the history of political ideology.

Past and Present PhD Students:

Elliot Askew, “Requiem for Reality: An Intellectual History of the Response to Neoliberalism in 1980s and 1990s America” (second supervisor). | Completed 2022

Jonathan Bartho, “The Role of the South in Ronald Reagan's presidential campaigns”  (second supervisor). | Completed 2021

Stephen Colbrook, "Fighting federal indifference: the state and social reform during the early HIV/AIDS crisis" (first supervisor). | Completed 2023

Elizabeth Evens, “Not your choice but ours: women’s role in the regulation of abortion before Roe v. Wade” (first supervisor). | Completed 2021

James Hillyer, "Promoting Keynesian liberalism: Walter W. Heller and US economic policy, 1933-1987" (second supervisor). | Completed 2017

Josh Hollands, “Work and Sexuality in the Sunbelt: Homophobic Workplace Discrimination in the US South and Southwest, 1970 to the present” (first supervisor). | Completed 2019

Yifei Li, ''A carefully constructed unintended consequence: Development of Medicare as a patchwork system, 1965-1997'' (first supervisor).

Christopher Sarjeant, ''The forgotten Culture War: The Roots, Structures and Implications of Intellectual Divergence on the American Left During the 'Long 1990s''' (second supervisor).



Jonathan Bell, The Liberal State on Trial: The Cold War and American Politics in the Truman Years (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004). In the series Columbia Studies in Contemporary American History

Jonathan Bell, California Crucible: The Forging of Modern American Liberalism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012) In the series Politics and Culture in Modern America

Jonathan Bell and Timothy Stanley, ed., Making Sense of American Liberalism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012). Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2013

Jonathan Bell, ed., Beyond the Politics of the Closet: Gay Rights and the American State since the 1970s (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020)

Journal articles and book chapters

  • Jonathan Bell, ‘Health care capitalism and the precarious right to bodily autonomy in the United States since the rights revolutions,’ Modern American History (2023), Health Care Capitalism and the Precarious Right to Bodily Autonomy in the United States since the Rights Revolutions | Modern American History | Cambridge Core
  • Jonathan Bell, ‘The limits of the neoliberal paradigm? Health care politics and the sexual revolutions in the United States at a time of crisis, 1970-1992,’ in Nathalie Levy et al (ed.), The Anglo-American Model of Neoliberalism of the 1980s: Construction, Development, and Dissemination (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022).
  • Jonathan Bell, ‘A System in Crisis: US Health Care Politics and the AIDS Epidemic,’ in Martin Halliwell Sophie Jones, ed., The Edinburgh Companion to the Politics of American Health (Edinburgh University Press, 2022).
  • Jonathan Bell, 'Queering the 'Welfare Queen': Poverty Politics and the shaping of sexual citizenship in the twentieth-century United States', Proceedings of the British Association of American Studies Annual Conference 2019 (2020) https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10093526/
  • Jonathan Bell, 'Between Private and Public: AIDS, Health Care Capitalism, and the Politics of Respectability in 80s America,' Journal of American Studies, 54:1 (February 2020), 159-183
  • Jonathan Bell, ‘Making Sexual Citizens: LGBT politics, health care, and the State in the 1970s,’ in Jonathan Bell, ed., Beyond the Politics of the Closet: Gay Rights and the American State since the 1970s (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020).
  • Christopher Phelps, Alex Goodall, Jennifer Luff, Jonathan Bell, Molly Geidel, ‘Roundtable: Antecedents of 2019,’ Journal of American Studies 2019 https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-american-studies/article/roundtable-antecedents-of-2019/CE6D6FB28E958D89F9BB4958E3B2A52C
  • Jonathan Bell, 'Rethinking the "Straight State": Welfare Politics, Health Care, and Public Policy in the Shadow of AIDS,' Journal of American History, 104:1, March 2018, 931-952
  • Jonathan Bell, Darius Bost, Jennifer Brier, Julio Capo Jr., Jih-Fei Cheng, Daniel Fox, Christina Hanhardt, Emily K. Hobson, Daniel Royles, 'Interchange: HIV/AIDS and US History,' Journal of American History, 104:2 (September 2017), 431-460.
  • Jonathan Bell, '"We Have Run Out of Poor People": The Democratic Party's Identity Crisis in the 1950s,' in Iwan Morgan and Robert Mason, ed., The Liberal Consensus Reconsidered: American Politics and Society in the Postwar Era (University Press of Florida, 2017, 208-226)
  • Jonathan Bell, 'Liberalism from the Fair Deal to the Great Society,' Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History (Oxford University Press, 2015). http://americanhistory.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.001.0001/acrefore-9780199329175-e-13
  • Jonathan Bell, 'Building a Left Coast: The Legacy of the California Popular Front and the Challenge to Cold War Liberalism in the Post-World War Two Period,' Journal of American Studies, 46:01 (2012), 51-71
  • Jonathan Bell, 'Social Politics in a Transoceanic World in the Early Cold War Years, Historical Journal, 53:2 (2010), 401-421. Republished in Daniel Scroop and Andrew Heath, ed., Transatlantic Social Politics, 1800-Present (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).
  • Jonathan Bell, '"To strive for economic and social justice": Welfare, sexuality, and liberal politics in San Francisco in the 1960s,' Journal of Policy History, 22:2 (2010), 193-225
  • Jonathan Bell, 'From Popular Front to Liberalism: Redefining the Political in California in the Post-World War Two Era,' in Bell and Stanley, ed., Making Sense of American Liberalism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012)
  • Jonathan Bell, 'The New Deal,' in Duncan Brack, ed., Dictionary of Liberal Thought (London: Methuen/Politico, 2007)
  • Jonathan Bell, 'Social Democracy and the Rise of the Democratic Party in California, 1950-1964', Historical Journal, June 2006, 497-524.
  • Jonathan Bell, 'Conceptualising Southern Liberalism: Ideology and the Pepper-Smathers 1950 Primary in Florida', Journal of American Studies, 37:1, April 2003, 17-45
  • Jonathan Bell, 'The Changing Dynamics of American Liberalism: Paul Douglas and the Elections of 1948', Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Winter 2004, 368-393
  • Jonathan Bell, 'Edward Costigan,' in R.McElvaine, ed., Encyclopedia of the Great Depression (New York: Macmillan, 2003)
  • 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)

Selected media appearances

Please visit our Staff Media Appearances pages