William Nelson

Affiliated Faculty, Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies
Associate Professor, Department of Historical and Cultural Studies
William Nelson

Areas of interest

  • Intellectual history of modern Europe and the Atlantic world
  • Race
  • Biopolitics
  • Development of early modern globalization
  • History of human sciences and life sciences
  • Social theory



William Nelson specializes in the intellectual history of modern Europe and the Atlantic world, with a special focus on how ideas about time, race, and biopolitics took shape in the eighteenth-century. He is the author of The Time of Enlightenment: Constructing the Future in France 1750 to Year One and an editor of The French Revolution in Global Perspective. He has also written a forthcoming book on the Enlightenment birth of biopolitics. 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. Other research and teaching interests include the development of early modern globalization, the history of human sciences and life sciences, social theory, the phenomenological tradition, modernist prose, and experimental forms of writing about the past. His essay weaving together the personal and the historical, “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.

In 2018, Professor Nelson was a Visiting Professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. Before coming to the University of Toronto, Professor Nelson was 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, a Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Cambridge University.