John Frederick Bell, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of History

508-767-7278 Founders Hall - Room 112

John Frederick Bell is a social and cultural historian of the United States specializing in race, education, and the Black freedom struggle. His book, Degrees of Equality: Abolitionist College and the Politics of Race (LSU Press, 2022), analyzes the first large-scale experiments in interracial higher education from the student perspective to explain why these once-inclusive institutions ultimately succumbed to racial prejudice. At Assumption, he mentors undergraduates through the Enhanced COMPASS Program, the Honors Program, the Secondary Education Teaching Practicum, and the SOPHIA Program. He is a frequent collaborator with the Division for Student Success on initiatives for BIPOC and first-generation students thriving. He also serves as a D’Alzon Faculty Fellow for Mission and as the university’s representative to the American Studies Committee of the American Antiquarian Society. 

Originally from Wilmington, Delaware, he earned a bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies and History from the College of William and Mary. He worked as a high school social studies teacher in Henderson, North Carolina and as an analyst at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC before completing his M.A. in History and Ph.D. in American Studies at Harvard. Prior to starting at Assumption University in 2019, he was a Spencer Dissertation Fellow at the National Academy of Education, a Kilachand Postdoctoral Fellow at Boston University, and a visiting lecturer at Brown University.


B.A. – Religious Studies and History, College of William and Mary

M.A. – History, Harvard University

Ph.D. – American Studies, Harvard University

Courses Taught

HIS 180: History of the United States to 1877

HIS 181: History of the United States since 1877

HIS 269: The African American Dream HIS 270: Immigration and Ethnicity in American History

HIS 362: The Civil War and Reconstruction in the US

HIS 400: Historical Methods


Above and Beyond Faculty Award, Student Government Association, 2023

Summer Research Assistance Fellowship, Honors Program, Assumption University, 2023

New Scholar’s Book Award, American Educational Research Association, Division F: History and Historiography, 2023

Faculty Member of the Year, Student-Athlete Advisory Council, Assumption University, 2022

Discourse Initiative Grant, Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University, 2021

Summer Research Assistance Fellowship, Honors Program, Assumption College, 2020


“Early Black Collegians and the Fight for Full Inclusion,” Black Perspectives, blog of the African American Intellectual History Society:

“An Education in Black Women’s Activism,” review essay on Kabria Baumgartner, In Pursuit of Knowledge: Black Women and Educational Activism in Antebellum America (New York: New York University Press, 2019) for Reviews in American History 48:4 (December 2020)

“Confronting Colorism: Interracial Abolition and the Consequences of Complexion,” Journal of the Early Republic 39: 2 (Summer 2019): 239-265.

“When Regulation Was Religious: College Philanthropy, Antislavery Politics, and Accreditation in the Mid-Nineteenth-Century West,” History of Education Quarterly 57:1 (February 2017): 68-93.

“Poetry’s Place in the Crisis and Compromise of 1850,” Journal of the Civil War Era 5:3 (September 2015): 399-421.

“Time Out of Mind: Bob Dylan and Paul Nelson Transformed,” in Eugen Banauch, ed., Refractions of Bob Dylan: Cultural Appropriations of an American Icon (Manchester University Press, 2015), 125-134


“The Grace They Could Imagine: A Black Student Periodical in the Age of Emancipation,” History of Education Society, Atlanta, GA, November 2023.

“The Essence of Emancipation: Black Pedagogy and Liberal Education in the US Civil War Era,” Imagining Emancipation in the Atlantic World, 1750-1888, University of Exeter (UK), June 2023.

“If Wishes Were Sources: Speculation and the Saga of James Bradley, Oberlin’s ‘First’ Black Student,” African American History Seminar, Massachusetts Historical Society, January 2023.

“A Black Student Periodical and the Literary War for Emancipation,” Society of Civil War Historians, Philadelphia, PA, June 2022.

“Family Feud: Abolitionist Colleges Debate the Limits of Reconstruction,” Organization of American Historians, Chicago, IL, April 2021.  

“Oberlin’s Black Alumnae and the New Birth of Freedom, 1864-1868,” History of Education Society, Columbus, OH, November 2019.