Our department would like to honor the memory of Stephen Vella, native of Brooklyn, New York and
Assistant Professor since 2006. We will never forget his intellect, concerned and
comforting gaze, and hearty laugh. He was 34.
Stephen started his term at Wake under the most unfortunate circumstances, newly diagnosed with a
very aggressive form of cancer. Yet he pursued the teacher-scholar ideal with courage and resolve.
Stephen received his AB from Princeton University, and his MA and Ph.D. from Yale University. His
dissertation, “Gentlemanly Conquerors: The Domestication of the Indian Frontier and the Fashioning
of Imperial British Identity, 1790-1850” (2006), was awarded Yale‟s distinguished John Addison
Porter Dissertation Prize. An expert on the social and cultural history of eighteenth- and nineteenthcentury
Great Britain and the British Empire in South Asia, Stephen brought an exciting array of new
courses to the department, including two upper-level seminars “The British Empire” (HST 311) and
“Rethinking British Cultural History, 1707-2007” (HST 390) and a First Year Seminar, “Visualizing
Britain‟s Empire, c. 1600 to the present.” His gentle art of persuasion and mesmerizing intellect won
the love, respect and admiration of his students. He also expanded the University‟s library collection
in these areas, winning a Presidential Grant for the purchase of the British Online Database.
Stephen conducted research with sources in Bengali, French, Italian and Spanish as well as English.
He asked how the loss of the thirteen American colonies and the building of a second empire in South
Asia changed British identity. The central thrust of his analyses was to show how newspapers,
particularly through their focus on imperial wars, served as the principal medium through which this
altered sense of “British-ness” was constructed. While historians recognize the impact newspapers had
on political, cultural, and social life in early nineteenth-century Britain, Stephen was the first to use
them comprehensively, intelligently and fruitfully. He also aspired to touch and teach historians
beyond his own field by venturing broader historical interpretations and attempting to capture the
“proper form” of representing the past. He produced a number of fine articles and was in the process
of completing his book manuscript while on leave in 2009-2010 before succumbing to his illness on
January 30, 2010.
With funds from the College and individual contributions from colleagues in History and other
departments of the college, the History Department has established the “Stephen Vella Memorial
Fund” to commemorate his legacy. It will be given as a research grant to an exemplary student to visit
archives to complete a senior thesis and/or honors thesis.