An intellectual and political-legal historian specializing in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Canada, Jeff McNairn is particularly interested in the history of the state; the public sphere and print culture; British imperialism and neo-British settler societies; and the history of liberalism. He is working on a history of the relationship between taxation and governance in Upper Canada that focuses on roads and other public works as collective action problems and a second project entitled "Insolvent, Imprisoned, Bankrupt: Failure and the Law in Common-Law British North America 1752-1869."
- The Capacity to Judge: Public Opinion and Deliberative Democracy in Upper Canada, 1791-1854, University of Toronto Press, 2000
- “A just and obvious distinction”: The Meaning of Imprisonment for Debt and the Criminal Law in Upper Canada’s Age of Reform, in G. Blaine Baker and Donald Fyson, eds., Essays in the History of Canadian Law, XI: Quebec and the Canadas, University of Toronto Press, 2013
- “The common sympathies of our nature”: Moral Sentiments, Emotional Economies, and Imprisonment for Debt in Upper Canada, Histoire sociale/Social History, n. 98, May 2016
- Incorporating Contributory Democracy: Self-Taxation and Self-Government in Upper Canada, in Julien Mauduit and Jennifer Tunnicliffe, eds., Constant Struggle: Histories of Canadian Democratization, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2021.
- British North America, c. 1750-1890
- Canadian intellectual history
- state formation and the law