Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College


John Bezis-Selfa

John Bezis-Selfa

Associate Professor of History
Chair, History Department, Spring 2016

I was born in Oakland, CA, in 1966. As the oldest son of a Greek immigrant father and a first-generation Hispanic mother, I spent my entire life in the Bay Area until I moved to Philly for grad school in 1989. I came to Wheaton in 1995, right after finishing my doctorate at Penn. I like New England, but I love California and Philly and consider myself at home in both, root for the 49ers and Eagles, and try to visit both places every chance I get.


Ph.D., M.A., University of Pennsylvania
B.A., University of California at Berkeley

Main Interests

  • History of the Americas and Atlantic world
  • Latino/a history
  • Language, politics, and identity
  • Environmental history
  • Slavery and abolition
  • Brasil

Research Interests

In March 2012 Oxford University Press published American Horizons: U. S. History in a Global Context.  Press. I am one of seven co-authors and the chief author of Chapters 1-5 of Volume 1. The opportunity to work on a project that featured the movement of peoples, goods, and ideas across borders as a key way to explain change in US history lured me to the project. Collaboration with my co-authors was the best part of the project.

I'm currently at work on a new book project focused on the history of Latin@ voting rights. I'm also exploring a backburner project on an environmental history of my hometown, Livermore, CA.

Either project would be a fairly sharp departure from my last one. I published Forging America: Ironworkers, Adventurers, and the Industrious Revolution in 2004. You can learn more about it through Cornell University Press at www.cornellpress.cornell.edu. In Forging America, I argue that a culture of industriousness which emerged in colonial British North America and the US depended on slavery, race, and the coercion of working people as much as it did on the acceptance and practice of a religiously-inspired work ethic.

Teaching Interests

Courses: Spring 2016

Hist 201: Colonial North America

Addresses colonial past of North America north of what is today Mexico. Rather than treat our subject as prelude to US history, we deal with the colonial era on its own terms. That takes us to Canada and the Caribbean as well as areas of North America first colonized by the French and Spanish, focuses our attention on Indians, and take the story of colonial history past 1776. We will try to understand the era through the eyes of those who lived through it by focusing much of our attention on primary sources. Students will have several opportunities to make sense of colonial history through engagement with primary sources and their own autonomous research.

Hist 298: US Environmental History (NEW COURSE)

Focuses on relationship between people and “nature” in North America from 1500 to today. We will explore cultural differences regarding how humans should relate to “nature” as well as conflicts that have often resulted from such differences,  the environmental consequences of North America’s incorporation into global markets, industrialization and urbanization, the rise of conservation and environmental movements, environmental racism, and the relationship between the rise of the US and its outsized global environmental footprint. Along the way, students will have plenty of opportunities to interpret environmental history for themselves via engagement with assigned materials and through autonomous project-based learning.

Areas of Teaching Interest

early North America
Latin America
Latin@ history

American Indian history

environmental history

Other Interests

Brasilian music, without question.

I like nearly all popular genres except sertaneja. I have played them all on my show "Ritmo Atlântico," which I did on Wheaton College Radio WCCS, 96.5 FM from 2002 through 2005. I usually revive the show whenever I teach Mundo Brasileiro and give students the option of appearing on air with me. I have also done guest DJ appearances on WMBR 88.1 FM, MIT's station.

Football rivals Brasilian music and usually trumps it during football season. I adore the 49ers (my birthright team), Patriots, and Eagles.

I also enjoy:

  • Birdwatching (and collecting birding field guides)
  • Gardening (chiles and wildflowers native to North America)
  • Cooking
  • Going home to California or to Philly, and going anywhere in the Southwst


American Horizons: U.S. History in a Global Context [with Michael Schaller, Robert Schulzinger, Janette Thomas Greenwood, Andrew Kirk, Sarah J. Purcell and Aaron Sheehan-Dean], 2vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012)

Forging America: Ironworkers, Adventurers,and the Industrious Revolution (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004)

"A Tale of Two Ironworks: Slavery, Free Labor, Work, and Resistance in the Early Republic," The William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Series, 56 (October 1999): 677-700.

"Slavery and the Disciplining of Free Labor in the Colonial Mid-Atlantic Iron Industry," Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 64 (Special Supplemental Issue, Summer 1997): 270-286.


It's not really a "peformance," but I don't know where else to put this under Professional Activities.

I am part of the "leadership core" for the American Historical Association's Tuning initiative, being funded by a three-year grant from the Lumina Foundation.

You can learn more about Tuning and my connection to it at: http://www.historians.org/projects/tuning/


Student Projects

Rebekah Bryer ('13) completed an independent study project under my direction on performance broadly conceived in colonial British North America and the early US.

Melissa Carter ('11) completed an independent study project under my direction on the relationship between Puritan theology and experiential religion in New England during the mid-17th century.

Sidney Reavey ('10) took an independent study with me in Spring 2010 focused on development and politics in Latin America since World War II.

Evelyn Sanders ('08) took an independent study with me on migration from Latin America to the US in the 20th century while she is interning at Centro Presente in Cambridge.

Rachel Pierre ('08), a History major who has concentrated on study of the Caribbean, took an independent study with me in Fall 2007 on Caribbean history up to c. 1850, with a special focus on the Francophone Caribbean.

Courtney Allen ('07) wrote a terrific honors thesis under my direction on New France and French efforts to acculturate indigenous peoples.

Emily Edwards ('05) and Deanna Torres ('05), both independent majors in Latin American Studies, completed thesis projects--Emily on education and national identity in early 20th century Mexico, Deanna on politics, culture, and the construction of Puerto Rican identity in New York in the 1960s and 1970s. Emily presented her work at Wheaton's Academic Festival in April 2005.

Sean Britt (Wheaton 2000 and former Davis fellow)worked with me on the history of slavery in 19th century Nevis.