William Nelson

William Nelson
Associate Professor
Associate Chair, Teaching
Telephone number
(416) 208-2921


William Nelson specializes in the intellectual history of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. His research focuses on the ways that ideas about time, race, and biopolitics emerged in eighteenth-century France and the Atlantic world. He is the author of Enlightenment Biopolitics (Chicago, 2024), The Time of Enlightenment: Constructing the Future in France 1750 to Year One (Toronto, 2021), and a co-editor of The French Revolution in Global Perspective (Cornell, 2013). Articles and essays of his have been published in The American Historical Review, History Workshop Journal, and Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, while chapters on a distinctively Atlantic Enlightenment and the effects of colonial history on the French Revolution have appeared in edited volumes. His essay “Five Ways of Being a Painting” won the Notting Hill Editions Essay Prize in 2017 and was subsequently published in Five Ways of Being a Painting and Other Essays. Weaving together the personal and the historical, the essay builds on his interests in experimental modernist prose, early modern globalization, art, aesthetics, and the history of ideas.

In 2018, Professor Nelson was a Visiting Professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He has also been a Research Fellow at The Institute for Historical Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Miami, and at Cambridge University he was a Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Associate Director of Studies at the Centre for History and Economics (where he is currently a Research Associate).



B.A. (Wisconsin, Madison)

MA (Chicago)

M.A. and Ph.D. (California, Los Angeles)

Research Interests

  • Europe
  • France
  • Intellectual History
  • Race
  • Colonialism