David A. Bell is a historian of early modern France, whose particular interest is the political culture of the Old Regime and the French Revolution. He attended graduate school at Princeton, where he worked with Robert Darnton, and received his Ph.D. in 1991. From 1990 to 1996 he taught at Yale, and from 1996 to 2010 at Johns Hopkins, where he held the Andrew W. Mellon chair in the Humanities, and served as Dean of Faculty in the School of Arts and Sciences. He joined the Princeton faculty in 2010.
Bell has written three books. Lawyers and Citizens (Oxford University Press, 1994) examined the politicization of the French legal profession in the eighteenth century, showing how spaces for radical criticism of the French monarchy first opened up within the structure of the French state itself. The Cult of the Nation in France (Harvard University Press, 2001) argued that nationalism, as opposed to national sentiment, was a novelty of the French Revolutionary period, and that it arose both out of, and in reaction to, Christianity. The First Total War (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), is a general study of the political culture of war in Europe between 1750 and 1815, which showed how an aristocratic culture of limited warfare gave way to a world in which total war was possible—and in which, between 1792 and 1815, it actually took place. In the winter of 2015-16, Oxford University Press will publish two new books by Bell: Napoleon: A Concise Biography, and an essay collection, Shadows of Revolution: Reflections on France, Past and Present. His major current project is a comparative and transnational history provisionally entitled Men on Horseback: Charismatic Authority in the Age of Democratic Revolutions.
In addition to his research and teaching, Bell writes frequently for a range of general-interest publications. He is committed to the proposition that serious history can be readable, enjoyable, and accessible to an interested general public.
Bell has regularly taught undergraduate survey courses on European history from 1492 to the present, on the French Revolution, and on the history of warfare in the modern West. Advanced undergraduate seminars include a course on the art of narrative history, and another on the history of the French empire in the Americas. He has taught graduate courses on early modern France, on nationalism, on war, on the first French empire, on the Enlightenment, and on the way thinkers have understood the Enlightenment over the past quarter-millennium. The syllabus for his Fall 2013 graduate seminar, "Revolutionary Lives," can be found here. He welcomes applications from prospective graduate students interested in working on topics related to French history from 1600 to 1815.
1. The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It
2. The Cult of the Nation in France: Inventing Nationalism, 1680-1800
3. Lawyers and Citizens: The Making of a Political Elite in Old Regime France