University of Wisconsin–Madison

John Suval

Advisor: William J. Cronon


I work at the intersections of antebellum U.S. environmental and political history, particularly as related to the North American West. My dissertation—“Dangerous Ground: Squatters, Statesmen, and the Rupture of American Democracy, 1830-1860”—explores how white squatters on western lands came to occupy a central and destabilizing position in U.S. politics in the decades leading up to the Civil War. Tracking squatters across the antebellum period offers new perspectives on how the U.S. grew into a continent-spanning juggernaut and how Jacksonian political culture cohered and came apart. Fluent in Spanish, with a minor in Latin American history and strong interest in Mexico, I bring transnational perspectives to my research on North American borderlands as well.


M.A., University of Wisconsin-Madison
B.A., State University of New York at Binghamton


  •  U.S. environmental and political history

MA Title

  • “Of Squatters and Statesmen: The Chocchuma Land Sale and the Nature of Jacksonian Democracy”

Working Dissertation Title

  • “Dangerous Ground: Squatters, Statesmen, and the Rupture of American Democracy, 1830-1860”

Selected Publications

  • “‘The Nomadic Race to Which I Belong’: Squatter Democracy and the Claiming of Oregon,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 118: no. 3 (Fall 2017): 306-337.
  • “The Surveyor’s Stone: Unearthing Hidden Markers of the American Landscape,” Edge Effects, February 7, 2017.
  • Book Review, An Agrarian Republic: Farming, Antislavery Politics, and Nature Parks in the Civil War Era, by Adam Wesley Dean; Civil War Book Review (Fall 2015)
  • “Clarence Rivers King,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the History of American Science, Medicine, and Technology, ed. Hugh Slotten (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).
  • “(Not) Like Butter: W. D. Hoard and the Crusade Against the ‘Oleo Fraud,’” Wisconsin Magazine of History 96: no. 1 (Autumn 2012): 16-27.

Selected Awards

  • Robert L. Platzman Memorial Fellowship, University of Chicago, Special Collections Research Center (2016-17)
  • University Fellowship, UW-Madison (2016-17)
  • Alfred M. Landon Historical Research Grant, Kansas Historical Society/Kansas Historical Foundation (2015-16)
  • Gunther Barth Fellowship, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley (2015-16)
  • Sterling Graduate Research Fellowship, Oregon Historical Society (2015)
  • Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship, Library Company of Philadelphia/Historical Society of Pennsylvania (2014-15)
  • Vilas Research Travel Grant, UW-Madison (2015)
  • History Department Research Travel Grant, UW-Madison (2015)
  • Center for Culture, History, and Environment (CHE), Research Travel Grant, UW-Madison (2014-15)
  • Chancellor’s Borderlands Fellowship, UW-Madison (2011)

Courses Taught as TA

  • History 101 – The History of the United States, 1620-1865
  • History 393 – Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, 1848-1877
  • History 460 – American Environmental History