BJ Lillis

Graduate Student

Dissertation Title:
A Valley Between Worlds: Slavery, Dispossession, and the Creation of a Settler Colonial Society in the Hudson Valley, 1674–1766

BJ Lillis is a historian of colonial America with a focus on the intersections between slavery, indigenous dispossession, and settler political economy. His dissertation follows the colonization of the Hudson Valley—a strategically vital corridor between a vast continent dominated by indigenous power, and an Atlantic world deeply invested in slavery—from the late 17th-century to the Revolution. Drawing on quantitative analysis of rent and account books alongside court records, mission diaries, and private letters in English, Dutch, and German, BJ’s dissertation traces the transformation of the Hudson Valley from a world of indigenous homelands, scattered Dutch villages, and sprawling refugee camps to one increasingly dominated by proto-capitalist agricultural estates, culminating in a wave of rebellion against the Landlords’ power on the eve of the Revolution.

BJ holds an M.A. in History from Princeton, having passed General Examinations in the fields of Colonial North America, Colonial Latin America, and the African Diaspora in the Atlantic World. Other research interests include Native studies, the history of gender, sexuality, and the family, comparative colonialism, public history and digital humanities.

BJ received his B.A. with high honors in history from Wesleyan University in 2012, where his undergraduate thesis, “Forging New Communities: Indian Slavery and Servitude in Colonial New England, 1676-1776” received the Dutcher Prize for history and Meyer Prize for American history. From 2012 to 2016, BJ worked as a curatorial assistant at the Museum of the City of New York, where he contributed to books and exhibitions including Capital of Capital: Money, Banking, and Power in New York City, 1784-2012 and Activist New York. Beginning in 2013, BJ was Project Assistant for New York at Its Core, the City Museum’s groundbreaking three-gallery permanent exhibition on the past, present, and future of New York City, a role which encompassed research, project management, and content development and writing for the exhibition’s innovative digital interactives.

BJ is also known for his acclaimed collaboration with artist and curator Lissa Rivera. Their project Beautiful Boy has been exhibited internationally, and Lillis and Rivera have lectured at universities and museums across the country on the intersections of gender identity, image culture, and the history of photography.

Degree Year
Year of Study
Eighth Year
Area of Interest
African American
Colonialism & Post Colonialism
Economic History
Gender & Sexuality
History of Capitalism
Indigenous History
Native American
Public History
Race & Ethnicity
Urban History
Visual Culture
Home Department & Other Affiliations
17th & 18th Centuries
North America