Dr Simon Middleton

Photo of Simon Middelton


Senior Lecturer in History
M.A., Ph.D.
Colonial American social and cultural history


+44 (0)114 22 22596
Jessop West 3.16
Office hours: Monday 12pm-1pm; Thursday 11am-12pm


Middleton Privileges book cover lrg

Simon Middleton joined the History Department in 2005. He was educated at Kingston Polytechnic, Harvard University, and the City University of New York Graduate Center, where he completed a Ph.D. From 1997-2005 he taught in the School of American Studies at the University of East Anglia. His research interests lie in the area of early American social and cultural history. Simon has won several awards for his work including a 2001 PEASE. Prize for the best journal article in early American economic history, and the Hendricks Manuscript Award and 2007 BAAS Book Prize for, From Privileges to Rights: Work and Labor in Colonial New York.

His course offerings include a second-year seminar in early American history from the European expansion to the New World to the American Revolution (HST279), a second-year document option examining the Salem Witchcraft Trials (HST2004), and a third-year Special Subject (HST3087/88) investigating European and Indian relations in seventeenth-century north-eastern America. Simon has received grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Board, New York State Archives, Gilder Lehrman Foundation, Library Company of Philadelphia, Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library, and American Philosophical Society, and a British Academy Fellowship, 2014-15 in support of his work.


I am extending my previous research on law and economic culture in early New York to Philadelphia and the middle colonies backcountry. The project investigates how interpersonal relations founded on credit and paper money were culturally interpreted and how economic change affected these interpretations. Some early findings have appeared as “Legal change, economic culture, and imperial authority in New Amsterdam and colonial New York City,” American Journal of Legal History (January, 2013), and “Private credit in eighteenth-century New York City: The Mayor’s Court Papers, 1681-1776,” Journal of Early American History, (August, 2012), 150-177. Most recently I have been working on chapters examining the introduction of paper money to New York and Pennsylvania between 1709-1730. Other recent research and writing projects have included investigation of political culture in New Netherland in the 1640s written up in "Order and Authority in New Netherland: The 1653 Remonstrance and Early Settlement Politics," The William and Mary Quarterly, (January, 2010). I also participated in the Leverhulme Funded project, "You, the People: National location and the writing of American history” which considered European perspectives on American history in a series of workshops leading to co-authored articles/essays, “‘Brokering’ or ‘Going Native’: Professional Structures and Intellectual Trajectories for European Historians of the United States,” American Historical Review, vol. 119 (June, 2014) and an essay, “Straggling Intellectual Worlds: Positionality and the Writing of American History,” in Nicolas Barreyre et al. eds., Historians Across Borders Writing American History in a Global Age (University of California Press, 2014). Finally, with three others, I am writing a survey of American history under contract with Routledge.

My previous research focused on issues raised by the intersection of daily life, political theory, and law in an urban setting in early America. To this end I published several articles and book chapters considering artisanal commerce, municipal regulation, and civic culture. My first book, From Privileges to Rights: Work and Politics in Colonial New York City (Philadelphia, 2006) examined the linkages between perceptions and representations of artisanal work and the shift in political discourse from a concentration on objective privileges to subjective rights in colonial New York City.

While working on Privileges to Rights, and in part because of the questions raised towards the end of the book concerning class formation, I collaborated with Professor Billy G. Smith of Montana State University in the organization of a 2003 conference focusing on the different meanings of class and class struggle in the early modern Atlantic World. This conference led to a second, one-day meeting, at the University of Pennsylvania (under the auspices of the McNeil Centre for Early American History), three special issues of US journals (Early American Studies, Labor, and The William and Mary Quarterly), and a collection of essays drawn from the conference, Class Matters. Early North America and the Atlantic World (Philadelphia, 2008).

Research Supervision

I am happy to supervise research students in early American history, particularly those interested in the northern and middle colonies, the social history of money and credit, colonial American class, political theory, law, and topics in colonial social, political, and cultural history, 1600-1800.

Previous MA dissertations have included, Benjamin Franklin and the Albany Conference, 1754; Dominick LaCapra, Alexis de Tocqueville, and intellectual history; slavery and civic humanism in seventeenth-century America; women and trade in eighteenth-century New York; King William’s War, 1689-97; emotion and sensibility in eighteenth-century Philadelphia; Alida Schuyler: family life and the frontier trade, 1680-1720.

Current Research Students

Kristine Tomlinson - Clerk, Physician, Scribe: A Biography of the Reverend Isaiah Parker MD, 1752-1848.

Laura Alston - Unruly Emotions in Eighteenth Century Print Culture and Women's Private Writing 1700-1830.

Further information on research opportunities within the department.


Full list of publications by Simon Middleton.


Simon Middleton Class Matters book cover Class Matters. Early North America and the Atlantic World (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008) edited and introduced with Billy G. Smith.

As a category of historical analysis, class is dead. Or so it was reported beginning in the 1980s and through the 2008 global financial collapse and prior to the more recent and continuing struggles between labour and capital over work, wages, and social well-being. The contributors to Class Matters contested this demise before it was fashionable to do so. Although differing in their approaches, they all agreed that socioeconomic inequality remained indispensable to a true understanding of the transition from the early modern to modern era in North America and the rest of the Atlantic world. As a whole, they charted the emergence of class as a concept and its loss of – we now know, temporary – analytic purchase in Anglo-American historiography.

The opening section considers the dynamics of class relations in the Atlantic world across the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—from Iroquoian and Algonquian communities in North America to tobacco lords in Glasgow. Subsequent chapters examine the cultural development of a new and aspirational middle class and its relationship to changing economic conditions and the articulation of corporate and industrial ideologies in the era of the American Revolution and beyond.

A final section shifts the focus to the poor and vulnerable—tenant farmers, infant paupers, and the victims of capital punishment. In each case the authors describe how elite Americans exercised their political and social power to structure the lives and deaths of weaker members of their communities. An impassioned afterword urges class historians to take up the legacies of historical materialism. Engaging the difficulties and range of meanings of class, the essays in Class Matters seek to energize the study of social relations in the Atlantic world.

Sample reviews:

Journal of the Early Republic.

English Historical Review.


Simon Middleton From Privileges to Rights book cover From Privileges to Rights: Work and Politics in Colonial New York City, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006). Winner of 2004 Hendricks Manuscript Award. Winner British Association of American Studies Annual Book Award, 2007.

From Privileges to Rights connects the changing fortunes of tradesmen in early New York to the emergence of a conception of subjective rights that accompanied the transition to a republican and liberal order in eighteenth-century America.

Tradesmen in New Amsterdam occupied a distinct social position and, with varying levels of success, secured privileges such as a reasonable reward and the exclusion of strangers from their commerce. The struggle to maintain these privileges figured in the transition to English rule as well as Leisler's Rebellion. Using hitherto unexamined records from the New York City Mayor's Court, Simon Middleton also demonstrates that, rather than merely mastering skilled crafts in workshops, artisans participated in whatever enterprises and markets promised profits with a minimum of risk. Bakers, butchers, and carpenters competed in a bustling urban economy knit together by credit that connected their fortunes to the Atlantic trade.

In the early eighteenth century, political and legal changes diminished earlier social distinctions and the grounds for privileges, while an increasing reliance on slave labor stigmatized menial toil. When an economic and a constitutional crisis prompted the importation of radical English republican ideas, artisans were recast artisans as virtuous male property owners whose consent was essential for legitimate government. In this way, an artisanal subject emerged that provided a constituency for the development of a populist and egalitarian republican political culture in New York City.

Sample reviews:

Enterprise and Society.

American Historical Review.

Book Chapters

with Nicholas Barreyre and Manfred Berg, “Straggling Intellectual Worlds: Positionality and the Writing of American History,” in Nicolas Barreyre et al. eds., Historians Across Borders Writing American History in a Global Age (University of California Press, 2014).

“Rights and Liberties,” in John Demos, ed., American Centuries: The Ideas, Issues, and Trends That Made US. History (New York, 2011). Volume Two: The Seventeenth Century.

"The Waning of Dutch New York, 1664-1763," in Hans Krabbendam, Cornelis A. van Minnen, and Giles Scott-Smith, eds., Four Centuries of Dutch-American Relations (Amsterdam/Albany: Boom Uitgevers/State University of New York Press, 2009), 108-120.

'The Idea of "Amsterdam" in New Amsterdam,' in Hans Krabbendam et al. eds., Parallel Cities: Amsterdam and New York, 1652-2002 (Amsterdam: Roosevelt Study Center, 2005).

'Joris Dopzen's Hog and Other Stories: Artisans and Trade Regulation in New Amsterdam,' in Joyce Goodfriend ed., Revisiting New Netherland. Perspectives on Early Dutch America (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2005), 129-147.

Journal Articles

with Nicholas Barreyre et al. “ ‘Brokering’ or ‘Going Native’: Professional Structures and Intellectual Trajectories for European Historians of the United States,” American Historical Review, vol. 119 (June, 2014)

“Legal change, economic culture, and imperial authority in New Amsterdam and colonial New York City,” American Journal of Legal History (January, 2013), 89-120.

“Private credit in eighteenth-century New York City: The Mayor’s Court Papers, 1681-1776,” Journal of Early American History, (August, 2012), 150-177.

"Order and Authority in New Netherland: The 1653 Remonstrance and Early Settlement Politics," The William and Mary Quarterly, (January, 2010), 31-68

"'Artisans' and the 'middling sort' in Gary Nash's eighteenth-century urban America?" Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (2009), 416-423.

"Introduction," to "Forum: Class," William and Mary Quarterly, (April, 2006), 347-372.

'Deference and Class: A Comment on Michael Zuckerman, Gregory Nobles, and John Smolenski,' Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal (Fall, 2005). University of Pennsylvania Press.

'How it came that the bakers bake no bread: a struggle for trade privileges in seventeenth-century New Amsterdam,' The William and Mary Quarterly, (April, 2001), pp. 347-372. Winner of Library Company of Philadelphia's Program in Early American Economy and Society (PEAES) Prize for best journal article in early American economic history, 2001.

'The Transformation of Eighteenth-Century America,' The Historical Journal, 42, 4 (1999), pp. 1147-1153.


Co-teacher - American History: From Settlements to Superpower, HST118 (Level 1 module)

This module examines the formation, development and influence of North America, and the United States in particular, from European colonisation after 1492 to the present day. The module begins by exploring colonial North America, and we cover the development of Mexico and New France (now part of Canada) as well as the colonies that eventually came together to form the United States. Thereafter, we will focus on the political, economic, and cultural development of the U.S., focusing especially on conflicts over national identity, race, class and gender, and the global reach of American military power and culture.

Module Leader - Colonizing America: Europeans and the New World, HST279 (Level 2 module)

This unit examines the American colonies from the Europeans' first encounters with the New World until the eve of the American Revolution. We begin by considering the cultural clash between European and indigenous populations in New Spain and then ponder the different experiences of settling down and establishing Euro-American communities in North America. Reading selected secondary sources and primary documents, we examine various topics and themes in early American history: the settlement of the early plantation colonies in the Chesapeake and puritan communities in New England; encounters between Europeans and Native Americans in North Eastern America and modern day Canada; the African origins of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery in the West Indies and the Carolinas; ethno-religious diversity and political unrest in the “middle colonies” of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey; and the growth of trade and unrest in the Atlantic World that provided the backdrop to the imperial crisis and, ultimately, the American Revolution. Our aim is to understand how it was that by the middle of the eighteenth century the North American colonists had become chronically sensitive regarding their place in the imperial world and given to eruptions of intergroup conflict and assaults upon the idea and trappings of authority.

Module Leader - The Salem Witchcraft Trials, HST2004 (Level 2 Document Option module)

From June to September 1692 one hundred and sixty men and women were accused of witchcraft and nineteen were convicted and hanged on a barren slope near Salem Village. The husband of one of the condemned, a man of over eighty years, was crushed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to a trial. In an effort to get to grips with the Salem witchcraft trials historians have lavished their attention on this single summer in this small and otherwise undistinguished New England village. Were the Salem witchcraft trials the result of paranoid anxiety owing to family feuds and the commercialization of agriculture, the decline of puritan zeal and the status of the Massachusetts Bay charter, or clinical hysteria or mass poisoning by a common grain fungus, or caused by fear of Indian attacks amongst unsurprisingly jumpy frontier settlers? All these explanations have their advocates and critics. Others wonder why, if the prosecutions reflected profound and general insecurities, were most of the witches women? Alternatively, how important were the individuals concerned and the choices they made at critical moments as the drama unfolded. Examining contemporary sermons, town records, letters, confessions, depositions, and court records and addressing the problems of source analysis that have yielded a fertile crop of interpretations, this module takes students to the heart of the witchcraft trials and what they reveal of the New Englanders´ assumptions and anxieties in the last days of the seventeenth century.

Module Leader - The Invasion of America: Indian and European Encounters, 1610-1690, HST3087/3088 (Level 3 Special Subject module)

This special subject examines early Dutch and English encounters with each other and Indian communities in what became New Netherland and New England. The Dutch came to North America in the guise of a commercial company seeking trade and profit. The English were religious dissenters intent, initially at least, upon establishing a godly commonwealth and living exemplary lives. Once the ashore, the settlers realized their own weakness and paid close attention to Indian strengths and expectations. However, in time the impact of epidemics, war, economic turmoil, and social disintegration disrupted long-established and finely-balanced Indian societies. Yet this was no one-sided transformation. The encounter and shifting imperial fortunes transformed settler and indigenous communities alike. Focusing on these changing colonial circumstances and imperial rivalries, this module examines how it was that in settling with the Indians, Europeans also learned disturbing truths about themselves and the place they came to think of as home.

Convenor - Debt, Money and Morality, HST3304 (Level 3 Comparative module)

This module takes a comparative approach to the history of debt in societies across time. Students will have the opportunity to engage with and formulate their own interpretations of a subject that raises significant questions of historical and contemporary relevance: the nature of money; the ethics of lending and borrowing; markets, trust and institutions; the role of the state; globalization and finance capital. The module adopts an interdisciplinary approach, in which historical examples are related to theoretical perspectives from sociology, economics, anthropology and literary theory.

Supervisor - Postgraduate Dissertation, HST6560 (Postgraduate module)

Students undertake an individual research project, based on an identifiable collection of primary sources and present their findings in a dissertation of 15,000 words. The dissertation represents an original piece of independent research and should be based on a substantial primary source base and demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the secondary literature. Through the dissertation students demonstrate their practical understanding of how established techniques of research and enquiry are used to create and interpret historical knowledge. Students will work under the supervision of an expert member of staff who will provide guidance and regular tutorial support.

Module Leader - Approaches to the American Past, HST6604 (Postgradute module)

This core module explores key themes in American history from the colonial through to the modern eras, introducing students to important debates in historical scholarship and giving them an awareness not only of the principal historiographical schools but also of the critical interrelationship between historical trends and events and scholarly interpretations of the past. Classes will be organised chronologically and thematically and will be taught through a series of case studies covering topics such as Native American history, consumption, gender, class, slavery, immigration and ethnicity, the New Deal, revisionism and the Cold War, and the New Left.

Module Leader - Eighteenth-Century British American Colonies, HST6886 (Postgraduate module)

Was eighteenth-century America the first truly modern society, as some believe, or did the persistence of a monarchical and deferential mores mark the British American colonies as backward looking and traditional societies? This question is vital for our understanding of the eighteenth-century colonial history and the coming of the American Revolution which different scholars have described as either the optimistic begetter of an individualistic and liberal society or the despondent destroyer of an earlier, civic-minded humanist idealism. This module explores this conundrum through readings of the classic and recently published monograph literature on society and culture in pre-revolutionary North America.

Public Engagement

To follow.

In the Media

Simon Middleton has written for BBC History Magazine and appeared on Radio Four’s In Our Time, hosted by Melvyn Bragg, discussing Benjamin Franklin and Washington and the American Revolution.

Professional Roles

To follow.

University Administrative Roles

Simon has served as a member of all the department's committees and has been involved in the planning of teaching and administration at all levels. As Senior Tutor for Undergraduate Admission (2006-08) he oversaw the centralization of History admissions. Thereafter he has served on Undergraduate Affairs Committee, Research and Knowledge Exchange Committee, Postgraduate Committee, and undertaken stints as convenor of the department´s research seminar as well as careers liaison, alumnae relations, and widening participation. In 2012-16 he is serving as Senior Tutor with overall responsibility for undergraduate welfare and discipline across all three years of the undergraduate degree.