Eva Vaillancourt


Bachelor of Arts in History, Barnard College, Columbia University (May 2012), Summa cum laude and department honors

Master of Arts in History, University of California, Berkeley (December 2021)


My dissertation recounts the history of road traffic rules: red lights, white lines, stop signs, speed limits, pedestrian crossings, the requirement to signal before turning, and all the other criminally-enforceable instructions we obey (and disobey) every time we step into the street. Practically none of these rules existed before the turn of the twentieth century; now, they are the most common way we come into contact with the criminal justice system. I study how these rules emerged, how they differed from earlier ways of ordering movement, and how people reacted to their introduction in cities around the world between about 1890 and 1940. Though my research is currently focused on Britain and its Empire, the story of modern traffic law is really a global one. In it, we can see old ideas about where social order comes from (custom, morality, common sense, courtesy, et al.) confronting new ideas (planning, system, and scientific analysis). My work connects changing philosophies of order to lived practices on the street, and shows that, as far as traffic is concerned, the triumph of modern rationalization was nowhere near as complete as we might think.

Where did the rules of the road come from?

Research Interests 

-          Legal history

-          History of science

-          Transnational history

-          Urban history

-          Imperialism

-          Policing

Selected Awards and Honors 

John L. Simpson ABD Graduate Student Research Fellowship in International & Area Studies (2023)

            Global, International & Area Studies, UC Berkeley

David Lieberman Presidential Doctoral Student Fellow (2023)

            Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies

George Guttridge Prize for outstanding work in British or American colonial history (2022)

            Department of History, UC Berkeley

R. Kirk Underhill Graduate Fellowship (2021)

            Anglo-American Law and Policy Program, UC Berkeley Law

Dissertation Research Grant (2021)

            Center for British Studies, UC Berkeley

R. Kirk Underhill Graduate Prize for the best student paper in British Studies (2019)

"My Right of Way: Making Rules for Movement on British Roads, 1896-1930"

            Center for British Studies, UC Berkeley

Road Safety Graduate Student Fellowship (2019)

            Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety, UC Berkeley  

Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award (2019)

            Graduate Division, UC Berkeley

Mellon-Berkeley Fellow (2016 to 2022)

             Graduate Division, UC Berkeley