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, ...
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 five 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 published 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.