Peter Kastor

Samuel K. Eddy Professor
Professor of History and American Culture Studies
PhD, University of Virginia
MA, University of Virginia
AB, Franklin & Marshall College
    View All People

    contact info:

    office hours:

    • On leave during FL21 semester

    mailing address:

    • MSC 1062-107-114
    • Washington University
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
    image of book cover

    ​Professor Kastor studies the intersection of politics, policymaking, and culture during the half-century following American independence. He has taught numerous courses on the presidency, ranging from first-year programs to senior seminars.

    Peter Kastor is particularly interested in the ways that the diverse peoples of North America--governing officials of the United States and European empires, Euro-American settlers, Indians, slaves, free people of color, and people of mixed-race ancestry--imagined what the United States should be and how best to construct public life within that polity.  He teaches undergraduate classes in both History and in the American Culture Studies Program.  He also trains graduate students in American history.

    Professor Kastor is particularly interested in the functional realities of governance. Most of Kastor's research so far has sought to explore these issues within the specific geography of western borderlands. His current book project, tentatively entitled Creating a Federal Government, will extend beyond the geographic focus of the West to take a national perspective on policymaking. This study will offer a comprehensive analysis of how the federal government operated in its first decades of existence. In the process of writing Creating a Federal Government, Kastor is also creating a major digital archive that will reconstruct the scope and scale of the early federal government. It will contain a full listing of federal officials, both civil and military, and will enable users to analyze the careers of these officials at both the individual and aggregate levels. Creating a Federal Government continues Kastor's commitment to interdisciplinary inquiry by bridging the gap between history and political science, engaging questions in American political development, presidential history, and institutional behavior.

    In addition to his scholarly work, Professor Kastor writes and talks regularly to public audiences about diverse issues in American history.  A regular guest on St. Louis Public Radio, he has spoken with numerous media organizations about the history of American politics and has written for outlets including The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Conversation, and Fortune

    Professor Kastor’s teaching includes a variety of professional development programs for federal, state, and local agencies.  He teaches in Washington University’s Brookings Executive Education program, a partnership with the Brookings Institution, which provides ongoing career development for emerging leaders in the federal government.  He has also conducted educational programming for the St. Louis Public Schools, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and the Air War College.


    Selected Publications

    Current Projects

    Creating a Federal Government, 1789-1829. Book project and digital archive currently under development.

    “The Multinational History of Missouri Statehood and the Reimagining of North American Polities.”  In A Firebell in the Past: The Missouri Crisis at 200, Jeffrey L. Pasley and John Craig Hammond, eds.  Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2021, Vol. 2 (forthcoming).


    Washington’s Government: Statebuilding for a New Nation.  Max Edling and Peter J. Kastor, eds.  Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2021.  Co-editor and author of “Washington’s Workforce: Reconstructing the Federal Government at the Moment of Its Creation,” 57-85.

    A French City in Colonial North America.  Jay Gitlin, Peter J. Kastor, and Robert Morrissey, eds.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2021.

    What So Proudly We Hailed: Essays on the Contemporary Meaning of the War of 1812. Pietro Nivola and Peter J. Kastor, eds.  Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2012.  Co-editor for the volume and author for the essay entitled “The War over Federalism: The Constitutional Battles in the War of 1812,” 122-49.

    William Clark's World: Describing America in an Age of Unknowns. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.

    Editor. America's Struggle with Empire: A Documentary History. Washington: CQ Press, 2009.

    Empires of the Imagination: Transatlantic Histories of the Louisiana Purchase. Peter J. Kastor and François Weil, eds.  Jeffersonian America Series. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009. Co-editor for the volume, co-author for the introduction, and author for the essay entitled “They Are All Frenchmen: Background and Nation in an Age of Transformation,” 239-267.

    The Nation's Crucible: The Louisiana Purchase and the Creation of America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

    The Louisiana Purchase: Emergence of an American Nation. Washington: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2002.  Editor, author for introduction, and author for essay entitled "Dehahuit and the Question of Change in North America," 74-89.

    Peer Reviewed Articles

    "What are the Advantages of the Acquisition?': Inventing Expansion in the Early American Republic." American Quarterly 60 (2008): 1003-35.

    "Sacagawea's 'Cold': Pregnancy and the Written Record of The Lewis and Clark Expedition." Co-author with Conevery Valencius. The Bulletin of the History of Medicine 82 (2008): 276-309.

    "'Young Men and Strangers': Institutions, Collaborations, and Conflicts in Territorial Louisiana." The Journal of the West 43 (2004): 23-32.

    "'Motives of Peculiar Urgency': Local Diplomacy in Louisiana, 1803-1821." The William and Mary Quarterly 3d. ser., 58 (2001): 819-48.

    "'Equitable Rights and Privileges': The Divided Loyalties of Washington County, Virginia, During the Franklin Separatist Crisis." The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 105 (1997): 193-226.

    "Toward 'The Maritime War Only': The Question of Naval Mobilization, 1811-1812." The Journal of Military History 61 (1997): 455-80.

    Essays and Book Sections

    "Mapping the Urban Frontier and Losing Frontier Cities." In Frontier Cities: Encounters at the Crossroads of Empire. Adam Arenson, Barbara Berglund, and Jay Gitlin, eds. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012: 165-89, 2013.

    "The Many Wests of Thomas Jefferson." In Seeing Jefferson Anew: In His Time and Ours. John M. Boles and Randal L. Hall, eds. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press: University of Virginia Press, 2010: 66-102.

    "'Adapted to its Present System of Government': Legal Change, National Reorganization, and the Louisiana Civil Law Digest." Tulane European & Civil Law Forum, 24, (2009): 137-159.

    "Writing a History for Exploration: What Became of Thomas Freeman and Peter Custis?"  In Freeman and Custis Red River Expedition of 1806: Two Hundred Years Later.  Lawrence M. Hardy, ed.  Bulletin of the Museum of Life Sciences XIV, Louisiana State University in Shreveport, 2008: 325-44.

    "Guardians and Gatekeepers: Lewis and Clark and the Louisiana Purchase."  In Finding Lewis & Clark: Old Trails, New Directions.  James Ronda and Nancy Tystad Koupal, eds.  Pierre: South Dakota State Historical Society, 2004: 25-44.

    "An Identity by Any Other Name: Attachments in an Age of Expansion."  In The Louisiana Purchase and its Peoples: Perspectives from the New Orleans Conference. Paul E. Hoffman, ed.  Lafayette: Louisiana Historical Society, 2004: 161-170.

    "'Louisiana is Ours!': The Louisiana Purchase and the New Problems in American Foreign Policy, 1803-1815."  Selected Papers from the Consortium on Revolutionary Europe, Kyle O. Eidahl, Donald H. Howard, and John Severn, eds.  Tallahassee: Florida State University Press, 1998: 280-8.

    In the Media

    American Democracy Lab Podcast, 15 February 2021

    “Lectures in History,” C-SPAN, 19 November 2020 and 18 October 2017

    "Presidential Transitions, New Traditions" (with Joey Vettiankal), Washington University Center for the Humanities, 14 October 2020

    "What Would America's Founding Fathers Think of Today's Protests?", KMOX Radio, 6 July 2020

    "These Washington University Faculty Had Rejected Online Classes--Until Coronavirus.  Here's How They Made the Switch", Washington Post, 18 June 2020

    "After Columbus' Removal, Who Should St. Louisans Honor with a New Status in Tower Grove Park?", Apple Podcasts Preview St. Louis on the Air, 18 June 2020

    “Barack Obama Is Changing What It Means to Be a Former President,”, 12 September 2017

    “How Trump’s Children Are Tarnishing His Presidency,”, 24 July 2017

    “Fear and Loathing in St. Louis,” Huffington Post, 13 October 2016

    “Trump vs. Clinton: Three Key Moments from the Second Debate,” The Conversation, 10 October 2016

    “Neither Clinton Nor Trump Ideal for Town-Hall Format,” Huffington Post, 9 October 2016

    Fellowships and Grants

    Summer Faculty Research Grant, Washington University, 2015.

    Innovation in the Classroom Grant, Washington University, 2014.

    Digital Innovation Fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies (2013-2014).

    Academic Venture Fund Grant (with Pietro Nivola), joint collaboration between Washington University and the Brookings Institution, 2011-2012.

    Academic Venture Fund Grant (with Pietro Nivola), joint collaboration between Washington University and the Brookings Institution, 2011-2012.

    Center Programs Grant (with Gayle Fritz), Washington University in St. Louis, 2007-2008.

    Faculty Research Grant, Washington University in St. Louis, 2007.

    Faculty Fellow, Washington University Center for the Humanities, 2006.

    Archibald Hanna, Jr., Fellow, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, 2005-2006.

    Fellowship in the History of Cartography, The Newberry Library, 2005-2006.

    Faculty Research Grant, Weidenbaum Center on the Government, Policy, and Political Economy, Washington University in St. Louis, 2004-2005.

    Society of the Cincinnati Research Fellowship, 1993.

    DuPont Fellowship, 1992-93.


    Awards and Prizes

    Margaret W. Rossiter History of Women in Science Prize (co-recipient with Conevery Bolton Valencius), Awarded by the History of Science Society for the article "Sacagawea's 'Cold': Pregnancy and the Written Record of The Lewis and Clark Expedition," 2012.

    Emerson Excellence in Teaching Award, 2011.

    Honorable Mention, Single Volume Reference/Humanities & Social Sciences, Association of American Publishers, for America's Struggle with Empire: A Documentary History, 2011.

    Kemper and Leila Williams Book Prize, Louisiana Historical Association/Historic New Orleans Collection, for The Nation's Crucible, 2005.

    Caroline Bancroft Western History Prize honor book, sponsored by the Denver Public Library recognizing outstanding contributions to Western history, for The Nation's Crucible, 2005.

    ArtSci Council Faculty Award, Washington University in St. Louis, 2002 and 2004.

    Choice, Outstanding Academic Book Selection for The Louisiana Purchase: Emergence of an American Nation, 2003.

    Arts & Sciences Freshman Advisor of the Year, Washington University in St. Louis, 2002.

    Phi Alpha Theta Advisor Award, Washington University in St. Louis, 2001.

    C. Coleman McGehee Prize, Virginia Historical Society, 1998.


    Recent Courses

    "Americans and Their Presidents," American Culture Studies Graduate Program, Washington University in St. Louis, Spring 2008-Present.

    "Proseminar: Introduction to Graduate Study of American History to 1865," Department of History, Washington University in St. Louis, Fall 2007-Present.

    "Freedom, Citizenship, and the Making of American Life," Department of History, Washington University in St. Louis, Fall 2006-Present.

    "Lewis and Clark and the Mantle of Accuracy," American Culture Studies Graduate Program, Washington University in St. Louis, Fall 2004.

    "American Culture: Traditions, Methods, Visions," American Culture Studies Program, Washington University in St. Louis, Spring 2002-present.

    "Sophomore Research in American Culture Studies," American Culture Studies Program, Washington University in St. Louis, Fall 2000-present.

    "Graduate Colloquium in American Culture Studies," American Culture Studies Program, Washington University in St. Louis, Summer 2000.

    "The American Frontier, 1776-1848," Department of History, Washington University in St. Louis, Spring 1999-present.

    "Lewis and Clark and the American Challenge," American Culture Studies Program, Washington University in St. Louis, Fall 1998-2003.


    Empires of the Imagination

    Empires of the Imagination

    Empires of the Imagination takes the Louisiana Purchase as a point of departure for a compelling new discussion of the interaction between France and the United States. In addition to offering the first substantive synthesis of this transatlantic relationship, the essays collected here offer new interpretations on themes vital to the subject, ranging from political culture to intercultural contact to ethnic identity. They capture the cultural breadth of the territories encompassed by the Louisiana Purchase, exploring not only French and Anglo-American experiences, but also those of Native Americans and African Americans.

    The Louisiana Purchase

    The Louisiana Purchase

    The Louisiana Purchase combines documents and analytical essays timed for the bicentennial year in 2003. This timely collection will explain how and why the United States acquired the massive territory that more than doubled the size of the country, the profound social and political changes that came in the wake of the Purchase, its impact on such far reaching topics like the Constitution, slavery, federalism, political behavior, nation building, transportation, the media, and global affairs, and how major historical figures like Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, and James Madison, were influenced by the Purchase.

    The Nation's Crucible

    The Nation's Crucible

    In 1803 the United States purchased Louisiana from France. This seemingly simple acquisition brought with it an enormous new territory as well as the country's first large population of non-naturalized Americans - Native Americans, African Americans, and Francophone residents. What would become of those people dominated national affairs in the years that followed. This book chronicles that contentious period from 1803 to 1821, years during which people proposed numerous visions of the future for Louisiana and the United States. The Louisiana Purchase proved to be the crucible of American nationhood, Peter Kastor argues. The incorporation of Louisiana was among the most important tasks for a generation of federal policymakers. It also transformed the way people defined what it meant to be an American.

    America's Struggle with Empire: A Documentary History

    America's Struggle with Empire: A Documentary History

    Drawing from a wide range of primary sources, this fascinating new reference brings unparalleled focus to the history of U.S. attempts to govern foreign territories and noncitizens. With the help of introductory essays and explanatory headnotes, the volume examines how these encounters have been viewed by Americans, and how they have shaped the relationship between the United States and the rest of the world. The volume explores how a democratic republic that proclaims a commitment to personal and national independence has gone about governing foreign territory and foreign people.

    William Clark's World

    William Clark's World

    William Clark, co-captain of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition, devoted his adult life to describing the American West. But this task raised a daunting challenge: how best to bring an unknown continent to life for the young republic? Through Clark's life and career, this book explores how the West entered the American imagination. While he never called himself a writer or an artist, Clark nonetheless drew maps, produced books, drafted reports, surveyed landscapes, and wrote journals that made sense of the West for a new nation fascinated by the region’s potential but also fearful of its dangers. William Clark’s World presents a new take on the manifest destiny narrative and on the way the West took shape in the national imagination in the early nineteenth century.

    What So Proudly We Hailed

    What So Proudly We Hailed

    What So Proudly We Hailed looks at the War of 1812 in part through the lens of today's America. On the bicentennial of that formative yet largely forgotten period in U.S. history, this provocative book asks: What did Americans learn—and not learn—from the experience? What instructive parallels and distinctions can be drawn with more recent events? How did it shape the nation?