People Archive

Graduate Associate

Matthew A. Axtell

PhD Program in History
phone: 202-210-2083

Matthew A. Axtell is a doctoral candidate in Princeton’s history department primarily interested in studying how legal concepts and actors have shaped (and have been shaped by) markets, property relations, geography, and economic reasoning in U.S. History. 

Matt's dissertation, titled "American Steamboat Gothic: Law, Commerce, and Collective Action in the U.S. Aquatic West, 1832-1868," analyzes the papers of river laborers, steamboat captains, attorneys, financiers, and court officers to tell how the bustling commercial nature of the 19th century steamboat economy eventually joined with its interstate nature, its undercapitalization, its egalitarian spirit, and its private competitiveness to upset balances of power on Ohio River waterfronts in the mid-1800s, blurring the line between debtors and creditors, buyers and sellers, and masters and slaves during the Ages of Jackson and Lincoln.  An environmental law practitioner in the private and public sectors for six years prior to Princeton, Matt maintains a deep interest in working at the intersection of environmental history and legal history while studying the law of property, tort law, constitutional law, and commercial law in light of the environmental conditions that embed and interact with these cultural institutions.  

Matt is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley (B.A., History, Highest Honors) and the University of Virginia School of Law (J.D., Traynor Prize for Best Writing by Law Graduate), and the recipient of research fellowship and grant support from the Harvard Business School, the Institute for New Economic Thinking, the Smithsonian Institution, the Kentucky Historical Society, the Filson Historical Society, and Indiana University-Bloomington.  During the 2012-2013 academic year at Princeton, he was a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship of Scholars Fellow.  In the 2013-2014 academic year he will serve as a Samuel I. Golieb Fellow in Legal History at the New York University School of Law.  


“Upstream from Slavery: A Review of Walter Johnson’s River of Dark Dreams,” Journal of Law and Social Inquiry (Forthcoming)

Review of Big Muddy: An Environmental History of the Mississippi and Its Peoples from Hernando de Soto to Hurricane Katrina by Christopher Morris in Ohio Valley History (Forthcoming)

“Natural Law,” in Encyclopedia of American Environmental History, ed. Kathleen A. Brosnan (New York: Facts on File, 2010). 

“Bioacoustical Warfare: Winter v. NRDC and False Choices Between Wildlife and Technology in U.S. Waters,” 72/3 The Minnesota Review 205-218 (Fall 2009/Spring 2010)

 “Last Lake Standing: Clean Water Act Jurisdiction in the Alaskan Frontier after Rapanos v. United States,” 38:7 Environmental Law Reporter 10,473-10,479 (July 2008).

“Garbage Can Music!: Rube Goldberg’s Three Careers,” 7 Columbia Journal of American Studies 30-65 (2006).

“Parting the Waters: A Mestizo Perspective on the Mexico/U.S. Border,” 1:3 Virginia Eagle 15-17 (2002).

“Pleasure Grounds and Iron Fences: Local and Federal Battles for Open Space in the Presidio of San Francisco,” 27 Journal of Law and Politics 797 – 852 (2001).

“A Machinist’s Revolt,” 22 Berkeley Undergraduate Journal 225-96 (1998).