Becca Palmer

Becca’s research, funded by the Wolfson Foundation, lies at the intersection of the history of political thought, political history, and the digital humanities. Her thesis conducts a conceptual history of political discourse during the American Revolution, to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the interplay between overarching political theories and the historical contexts of their reception.  
Her thesis challenges scholarship which views the ideological origins of the American Revolution as continuous throughout the period. It qualifies discourses of continuity through a stronger understanding of how overarching political traditions were understood in different local contexts, as actors interpreted, and continuously developed, shared concepts in diverse ways in response to their own experiences. Instead of revealing the political ideologies that influenced colonial political thought, therefore, Becca focuses on political language as it appears in the sources themselves. In particular, she examines the extent to which the colonists developed a comprehensive network of political concepts that can be defined as ‘political thought’, or whether the Revolution was more of a unique ‘patchwork’ of political ideas.  

Moreover, her thesis goes beyond the conventional pamphlet literature to incorporate other textual representations of public debate such as newspapers, broadsides, and sermons, which have been overlooked by existing scholarship. It focuses on texts from three printing cities, that emerged during three moments of crisis during the Revolution: Boston, Philadelphia, and Williamsburg, during the Stamp Act Crisis (1765-6), the introduction of the Townshend Duties (1767-8), and the Coercive Acts (1773-4). Sources will be analysed through a digital, mixed-methods approach, combining frequency counts of political concepts such as liberty, corruption, and authority, with a thematic analysis of how these were utilised in concrete historical contexts. This offers a new methodological approach to the breadth of scholarship existing on the American Revolution, through greater focus on how the political thought available to the colonists was deployed in different ways as they responded to the unfolding events of the imperial crisis. 

Ultimately, therefore, this thesis will achieve a more nuanced understanding of Revolutionary political thought, by enhancing understandings of how shared political concepts were interpreted in different ways, as actors across different spatio-temporal contexts used political discourses to understand, and respond to, different events during the American Revolution.   


Supervisor: Angus Gowland and Jon Chandler
Working title: ‘Non-Ideological Origins’: A conceptual analysis of political discourse during the American Revolution. 


  • 'The Making of Modern America: The United States since 1920', First Year Module, Institute of the Americas, UCL, 2023-4
  • 'Writing History', First Year Module, UCL Department of History, 2023-4

Conference Papers

  • Republicanism in the Age of Revolutions, joint conference between UCL, SOAS, Université Paris-8 Saint-Denis, and Université Paris Nanterre, June 2023:  Liberty and Property Vindicated: A conceptual analysis of republicanism during the Stamp Act Crisis, 1765-66
  • 14th Annual London Graduate Conference in the History of Political Thought, on the theme of Property and Power, June 2023: Non-Domination vs Non-Interference: The (Im)possibilities of identifying a distinctly republican conceptualisation of property and power during the Stamp Act Crisis of the American Revolution.

Committee positions 

Institute of Historical Research, History of Political Thought (Early Career) Seminar, 2023-4