Benjamin Westervelt

Associate Professor of History


Medieval and Early Modern Europe

Academic Credentials

PhD 1993 Harvard University, M.T.S. 1985 Harvard Divinity School, BA 1982 Brandeis University


I am responsible for teaching European history before the modern era. My survey course takes in a millenium and a half, while some of my upper division courses are much more narrowly focused. All have in common, however, my fascination with how Europeans grappled with their present to create stable societies, drawing on complex and contested pasts. A particular interest of mine is the role of religion in history. Several of my classes are cross-listed in the Religious Studies department and my master’s degree in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School has given me a technical background in religion which I balance with my doctoral work in history. Every class I teach draws heavily on primary documents and I hold the teaching of effective communication, especially writing, to be one of the foremost goals of any course I teach. I also periodically teach the history department’s core courses-Historical Materials, the Colloquium and the Senior Seminar-and Exploration and Discovery, our first year course.


Like much of my teaching, my scholarship focuses on religion in European history. I began my research by looking at a very specific topic: the reform of preaching in Milan (Italy) in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. I spent a year (1989-1990) in Milan doing research in the archives and I have since been back to Italy several times. Out of this research came my doctoral dissertation and several articles. The dissertation and the articles have in common some related themes: the difference between theory and practice (in the case of preaching, how people say one should preach vs. how they preach); the conflict between the center and the periphery, town and country, leader and led; the different perceptions of elite and popular groups on contested subjects; and especially, the question of how institutions and their bureaucracies recognize the need to reform themselves and then respond to that need. Among other places, I have crystallized my thinking on these issues in an article entitled “Roman Catholicism” in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation. My next project will treat some of the same broad issues in an entirely different context: the pope’s suppression of the Jesuits in 1773.

Location: Miller Hall