Dr Lila O’Leary Chambers

  • College positions:
    Research Fellow
  • Subjects: History


BA in History and English Literature (State University of New York at Geneseo), MPhil, PhD (New York University)

Research interests

I am a historian of race, slavery, and commodification in the early modern Atlantic. My research traces the intertwined development of political economy, diplomacy, and race in West Africa, the Caribbean, the British Isles, and North America between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Most broadly, my work explores how women, children, and men hailing from each of these geographies made and contested value during the growth of Atlantic slaveries. I am currently writing my first book, Liquid Capital: Alcohol and the Rise of Slavery in the British Atlantic, 1580-1737. Moving through Ireland, West Africa, the slaving ship, the Caribbean, and the Native Southeast, I argue for the diplomatic, social, and economic importance of alcohol to the growth of a British empire premised in Indigenous dispossession and racial chattel slavery. At the same time, my work is equally concerned with foregrounding how African, African-descended, and Indigenous peoples mobilised alcohol to destabilise English control in line with their own conceptualizations of this intoxicant’s value. In doing so, I offer a new and materially-grounded means of accounting for consumption as a component of the Atlantic political economy that emerged from the commodification of African, African-descended, and Indigenous people held in bondage.

I am also affiliated with the Register of British Slave-Traders Project, where my research traces British women’s relationship to the development of racial capitalism through their investment in the transatlantic slave trade across the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Teaching Interests

Atlantic History, including Atlantic Africa and the Indigenous Americas

US to 1877

Histories of Slavery and Race

Histories of Consumption and Commodification

Gender, Race, and Political Economy in the Early Modern British Atlantic

Awards and prizes

2022: OI-NEH SHARP Fellowship Award, Omohundro Institute of Early American History

2022: Outstanding Dissertation Award, Department of History, NYU.

2021: “Before Farm to Table” Research Fellowship, Folger Library.

2020-1: Quinn Fellow, Doris G. Quinn Foundation.

2019-20: Consortium Fellow, McNeil Center for Early American Studies.

2019: Doctoral Fellowship, Remarque Institute, NYU.

2018: Huntington Library, Grant for Research in the UK.

2017: Jean Downey Fellowship for Irish History.