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Rachel Weil Weil

Professor, Director of Graduate Studies

Office: 434 McGraw Hall
Phone: (607) 255-8897
Fax: (607) 255-0469
Updated CV

Office Hours: See department listing, 450 McGraw Hall

Research and Teaching Interests

I work on the political, cultural, intellectual and gender history of early modern England. My first book, Political Passions: Gender, the Family and Political Argument in England 1680-1714 (2000), asked how the ways that people thought about women, gender and the family might shape or in turn be shaped by political struggles over legitimacy, inheritance, royal favorites and highly politicized concepts of public and private. In 2013 I published A Plague of Informers: Conspiracy and Political Trust in William III's England, which takes another set of problems not normally written about in the context of political history -- what or whom can one trust? -- and explores how these problems were expressed and addressed in the turbulent years following the Revolution of 1688, when the new Williamite regime struggled to obtain the trust of subjects even as it relied upon methods (such as the use of paid informers and suspension of habeas corpus) which contradicted its legitimating claim to restore liberty to the English. Plague of Informers also digs deep into social history, reconstructing as far as possible the lives and motivations of the relatively humble men and women who presented information about plots (or sham-plots) to government officials.

My current project looks at detention and imprisonment in early modern England. I am interested in understanding the experience of persons detained for long periods of time without actually having been convicted of a crime. I also think about prisons as sites of politics , where both gaolers and prisoners engage in pragmatic and ideologically charged ways with notions of rights, constitutions and authority; and how this in sometimes gave actors in the wider political world an investment in what happened in the prison. I am also interested in how the detention of prisoners was understood to be similar to (or different from) other situations in early modern England in which people were restrained from moving where they pleased: the confinement of the sick to hospitals or their own houses, the commitment of lunatics to asylums, or slavery.

I teach classes on English/British history from 1500-1800, and have also taught a survey of the early modern Atlantic world. I also courses organized on themes, like "Gender and Power," "Law and Revolution," and "The Birth of the Prison."


For more information and links to current courses, go to: History's Courses Page

Courses Taught at Cornell

The Making of Modern Europe, 1500 to the present
Myths of Monarchy
Renaissance England
Eighteenth-century Britain
Western Civilization II (Europe 1500-present)
The Atlantic World from Conquest to Revolution (team-taught)
Milton and the English Revolution (team-taught)

Honors Proseminar
Graduate Intro Course
European Colloquium
Graduate Research Seminar
The Intellectual History of Early Modern Empire (graduate seminar)
Early Modern England/Political Culture (graduate seminar)
Nation, Empire and Identity in 18th-century Historiography (graduate seminar)
Transformations of Law in the Age of Empire and Enlightenment (graduate seminar)
Law, Liberty and Revolution in 17th Century England (senior seminar)
Knowledge and Politics in 17th century England (senior seminar)
Politics and Culture in 18th century England (senior seminar)
Gender and power in Early Modern England (senior seminar)
The English Revolution (senior seminar)
The Age of Atlantic Revolutions (sophomore seminar)
Gender in Early Modern Europe (sophomore seminar)
Childbirth in Early Modern Europe (Freshman writing seminar)


Ph.D. Princeton University, 1991
M.A. Princeton University, 1984
B.A. Brown University, 1981

Recent Publications and Awards


Out now from Yale University Press: A Plague of Informers: Conspiracy and Political Trust in William III's England,

[A Plague of Informers.jpg]

Political Passions: Gender, the Family and Political Argument in England 1680-1714 is now available in paperback,


Political Passions: Gender, the Family and Political Argument in England 1680-1714 (Manchester University Press, 1999).

"The Female Politician in the Late Stuart Age" in Julia M. Alexander and Catherine Macleod, eds. Politics, Transgression, and Representation at the Court of Charles II (Yale University Press, 2007).

"The politics of informing in the 1690s: Matthew Smith versus the 'Great Men'" in Steve Pincus & Peter Lake, eds, The Politics of the Public Sphere in Early Modern England (Manchester University Press,2007).

"Thinking about Allegiance in the English Civil War" (History Workshop Journal, Spring 2006).

"Sometimes a Sceptre is only a Sceptre: Pornography and Politics in Restoration England" in Lynn Hunt, ed. The Invention of Pornography ( NY: Zone Books, 1993).


2006-07 Fellow, National Humanities Center.
2006-07 Awarded NEH/Folger Longterm Fellowship, Folger Shakespeare Library (declined).
1999 Huntington library short-term research fellowship.