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Dr Kevin Waite

Associate Professor (Modern American History)

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Associate Professor (Modern American History) in the Department of History  


Kevin Waite is a political historian of the 19th-century United States with a focus on slavery, imperialism, and the American West. His first book, West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire (UNC Press, 2021), is a study of slaveholding expansion in California and the Far Southwest. It explores how American Southerners extended their labour order and political vision across the continent, and in the process, triggered a series of conflicts that culminated in the Civil War. West of Slavery won the 2022 Wiley-Silver Prize from the Center for Civil War Research and was a finalist for the Lincoln Prize as well as the SHEAR Manuscript Prize. It was named one of the "11 books that shaped how we think about California" by Boom: A Journal of California and one of the "Five Best Books" ever written on the Civil War in the American Far West by the Civil War Monitor. 

His next book project reconstructs the life and times of Biddy Mason, an enslaved woman from Georgia who, in the mid-19th century, walked across the continent, broke free from bondage, and helped build modern Los Angeles. Alongside several other academics and activists, Kevin is coordinating a campaign to preserve an endangered series of 1930s murals by the artist Bernard Zakheim, one of which features Biddy Mason. Their efforts have generated extensive media coverage, including stories in The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and National Public Radio. That work and more grew from a Collaborative Research Grant from the National Endowment from the Humanities, which he co-directed from 2019-2022.

Kevin comments frequently on American history and politics for major media outlets. His writing has appeared in The AtlanticThe Los Angeles TimesThe Washington Post, Slate, HuffPostThe New Republic, TIME, and National Geographic, among others. One of those articles for the LA Times led to the removal of the oldest Confederate monument on the Pacific Coast. He has also spoken about his research on television and radio, including interviews with LBC, LBC News, BBC Radio 3, Metro Radio, NPR, and as a talking head for three TV documentaries. He currently sits on Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Steering Committee for the creation of a memorial to the victims of the 1871 Los Angeles Chinese Massacre, one of the largest mass lynchings in American history.

Kevin received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 2016. He also holds degrees from the University of Cambridge (MPhil, Modern European History), where he was a Herchel Smith Fellow, and Williams College (BA, History, English, Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude). He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

PhD supervision

Kevin welcomes inquiries from prospective students working on a broad range of topics in U.S. history, especially those interested in the American Civil War era, the history of slavery and emancipation, and the American West.

Research groups


Authored book

  • Waite, Kevin (2021). West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire. University of North Carolina Press.

Chapter in book

Journal Article

Newspaper/Magazine Article

  • Waite, Kevin (2021). 'What Slavery Looked Like in the West'. The Atlantic
  • Waite, Kevin (2021). 'The sinister reason why camels were brought to the American West'. National Geographic
  • Waite, Kevin & Dilawar, Arvind (2021). 'The Southerners Who Dreamed of a Slaveholding Empire'. Jacobin
  • Waite, Kevin (2021). 'The little-known story of how slavery infiltrated California and the American West'. The Conversation
  • Waite, Kevin (2021). 'California's Vigilante Tradition'. Los Angeles Review of Books
  • Waite, Kevin (2021). 'The bloody history of anti-Asian violence in the West'. National Geographic
  • Waite, Kevin (2021). 'America's Western Problem'. History Today
  • Waite, Kevin (2021). 'The Forgotten History of the Western Klan'. The Atlantic
  • Waite, Kevin (2021). 'Build a memorial to the victims of the 1871 Los Angeles Chinese Massacre'. Los Angeles Times
  • Waite, Kevin (2021). 'Congress is still littered with insurrectionists'. Slate
  • Waite, Kevin (2021). 'How California's slavery reparations task force has the power to transform us all'. Los Angeles Times
  • Waite, Kevin (2020). 'UCSF should save this California monument to Black history'. San Francisco Examiner
  • Waite, Kevin & Broxton, Jackie (2020). 'Why is UC San Francisco threatening to destroy a monument to California's Black history?'. Los Angeles Times
  • Waite, Kevin & Gordon, Sarah Barringer (2020). 'The other slavery part of Utah's history'. Salt Lake Tribune
  • Waite, Kevin & Gordon, Sarah Barringer (2020). 'California's forgotten slave history'. Los Angeles Times
  • Waite, Kevin (2020). 'California finally sweeps away most of its tributes to the Confederacy. What took so long?'. Los Angeles Times
  • Waite, Kevin (2019). 'California's Forgotten Confederate History'. The New Republic
  • Waite, Kevin (2019). 'Why it's always Infrastructure Week'. Washington Post
  • Waite, Kevin (2018). 'The missing statues that expose the truth about Confederate monuments'. Washington Post
  • Waite, Kevin (2018). 'Early California lawmakers also preached #resistance -- against immigration'. Los Angeles Times
  • Waite, Kevin (2018). 'Kanye West's rants on slavery align alarmingly well with popular views of American history'. Los Angeles Times
  • Waite, Kevin (2017). 'Robert E. Lee WAS a man of honor. That's the problem'. Washington Post
  • Waite, Kevin (2017). 'The struggle over slavery was not confined to the South, L.A. has a Confederate memorial problem too'. Los Angeles Times
  • Waite, Kevin (2017). 'The largest Confederate monument in American can't be taken down'. Washington Post

Supervision students