Jennifer Wells

Jennifer Wells headshot

Jennifer Wells

Assistant Professor of History & International Affairs

Full-time Faculty


Office Phone: 202-994-6870

Jennifer Wells specializes in international law and history, with an emphasis on the intersection of history, law, politics, society, and the state. Wells’s current research projects focus on war crimes, humanitarian law, refugees, and how non-state actors, rogue states, and ungoverned territories are financed through illicit international networks. She is particularly interested in assessing how cultural property and world heritage from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia are looted and trafficked to buyers in North America, Europe, and the Gulf in order to fund terrorism and global political violence. This project also investigates cultural property destruction as a war crime and how states and non-state actors destroy world heritage to incite cultural genocide.

Wells has published on a wide range of issues that examine the intersection of history, law, politics, society, and the state, including: international war crimes; terrorism and U.S.-U.K. extradition law; refugee policy in the Middle East; conflict and climate change; British judges and Chinese pirates in 19th-century Hong Kong; local expertise in nation building; and the coercive powers of the state. Her first book, Prelude to Empire: State Building in the Early Modern British World forced a fundamental reassessment of European empire by evaluating the shared links between early modern state formation and colonial expansion. In particular, it focused upon how illegitimate rulers solidified and justified rule domestically through coercive and bureaucratic means. Wells’s work has been supported by a wide variety of national and international institutions, including the American Council of Learned Societies, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Humanities Center, Department of State, European Union, and Irish government.

In addition to these academic pursuits, Wells is an on-air contributor for the BBC and National Geographic Channel. She sits on the board of Genocide Watch and the International Alliance to End Genocide and speaks about these issues to the diplomatic community in Washington, DC. She has worked for Amnesty International and clerked for the U.S. Federal Courts in the Northern District of California.

International Law, Genocide, War Crimes, Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, State Building, Failed States, Illegitimate States, Terrorism, and Empire

Wells's second full-length book, Loot!: Cultural Property Theft & the Financing of Global Political Violence, sits at the intersection of history, law, political science, anthropology, archaeology, international affairs, and security studies. It examines cultural property theft and destruction in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia since the 1990s. Drawing upon international charters, legal records, satellite imaging, witness statements, archaeological research, and interviews conducted across four continents and in 25 countries, it argues that the pace of cultural property theft and destruction is accelerating during conflict and that we are witnessing a radical transformation in how non-state actors and pseudo-states finance themselves, evading international sanctions and challenging local and global stability.

Ph.D., Brown University, 2016

J.D., University of California, 2010

Hist 2001 - Irish History
Hist 2005w - Law, State, and Empire
Hist 3134 - Stuart England 
Hist 2001 - Global Genocide & Atrocity 
Hist 3132 - Tudor England  
Hist 3130 - History of England to 1688
Hist 1110 - European Civilization in Context

Prelude to Empire: State Building in the British World (forthcoming)

“Fear Factor: Invoking the West’s Rhetoric on Terrorism to Incite Genocide Globally,” Auschwitz Journal on Genocide Prevention (forthcoming, 2020), pp. 5-32.

“Taking War Crimes Law Seriously in Revolutionary Ireland: A Legal Analysis,” in Coleman A. Dennehy (ed.), Law and Revolution in Seventeenth-Century Ireland (Four Courts Press: Dublin, 2020), pp. 215-239.

“English Law, Irish Trials and Cromwellian State Building in the 1650s,” Past & Present, no. 277 (May 2015), pp. 77-117. 

“Proceedings at the High Court of Justice at Dublin and Cork, 1652-54, part II,” Archivium Hibernicum, 67 (2014), pp. 76-274. 

“Proceedings at the High Court of Justice at Dublin and Cork, 1652–1654, part I,” Archivium Hibernicum, 66 (2013), pp. 63-260.  

“Clashing Kingdoms, Hidden Agendas: the battle to extradite Kwok-a-Sing and British legal imperialism in nineteenth-century China,” University of Pennsylvania East Asian Law Review, 7:1 (2011), pp. 161-193.  

“In Vino Veritas: Greed, Grapes, and Lawsuits in the Napa Valley,” West Northwest Journal of Environmental Law and Policy, 16:2 (2010), pp. 515-540.