Peter Wirzbicki

Assistant Professor of History; Class of 1942 University Preceptor in History
Office Phone
G-19 Dickinson Hall

Professor Wirzbicki is an intellectual historian of Nineteenth-Century United States. His scholarship focuses on the relationship between American intellectual life, political movements, and cultural expression. His first book, which came out in 2021 and is entitled Fighting for the Higher Law: Black and White Transcendentalists Against Slavery, examines how Transcendentalist ideas influenced the political strategies, ideologies, and struggles of the abolitionist movement. It is particularly interested in the ways that black abolitionists engaged with and helped to shape Transcendentalism. It thus stresses the political legacies of famous Concord Transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller, while also demonstrating the intellectual importance of black abolitionists like William C. Nell, Charlotte Forten, and Thomas Sidney.

Wirzbicki’s new book project, tentatively entitled The Abolitionist Nation: An Intellectual History of Reconstruction, seeks to explore political philosophy in the era of the Civil War and Reconstruction. What were the philosophical and intellectual resources that Northerners drew upon while they sought to remake the American nation in the wake of the war? He is studying how an ideologically diverse group of Northern thinkers understood terms like democracy, sovereignty, nation, rights, and the state during the 1860s and 1870s. The end of slavery remade American political thought, making a robust national democracy possible for the first time. This book will be the first comprehensive intellectual history of the ideological origins and consequences of the Second American Revolution. In particular, The Abolitionist Nation understands Reconstruction as a central moment in American democratic political theory.

Wirzbicki received his PhD from New York University in 2012. He has received a postdoctoral fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and been a Harper-Schmidt Fellow in the University of Chicago Society of Fellows. He has held fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Huntington Library, and the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium.

Area of Interest
(In alphabetical order)
Intellectual History
Political History
Home Department & Other Affiliations
19th Century
United States