Dr. Alison Bell

Research Interests



I am an historical archaeologist, broadly trained in the liberal arts tradition and committed to an anthropologically informed archaeology. My research draws on a wide variety of sources including archaeological remains, vernacular architecture, oral histories, and historic documents such as probate inventories to better understand the social fabric of the historic past.


My primary interests are the intersections of material culture, social relations, and cultural values in 17th, 18th, and 19th-century North America, especially Virginia. I am intrigued by the ways in which individuals used objects not only to meet their physical needs of existence, but also to make statements about themselves and their communities; to establish alliances with or proclaim distance from contemporaries; and to express their values, beliefs, and aspirations.


Individuals in the communities I study participated to varying degrees in the “consumer revolution”: a transformation in spending patterns among many people living in western Europe and its colonies. Changes in architecture, domestic property, and farming began in late medieval times but accelerated during the 18th century, as economically middling people began to own such goods as tea wares, window curtains, spices, and carpets which previously only the most affluent had enjoyed. Part of my research focuses on understanding the genesis of this novel demand for consumer goods and its relationship to contemporary developments in agricultural production, both of which were integral to the formation of American capitalism.