Washington History Seminar

The Washington History Seminar: Historical Perspectives on International and National Affairs provides a forum for the in-depth discussion of important new historical research and perspectives in international and national affairs. The weekly seminar brings together Washington area and visiting historians and researchers from the worlds of academia, journalism and government. The Washington history seminar is co-sponsored by the National History Center (an initiative of the American Historical Association) and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, with support from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR). Eric Arnesen, director of the National History Center, and Christian F. Ostermann, director of the Wilson Center’s History & Public Policy Program are the co-chairs.

The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book

Aug 20, 2014
In The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book, Peter Finn and Petra Couvée bring readers intimately close to the charming, passionate, and complex artist that was Boris Pasternak. First to obtain CIA files providing concrete proof of the agency’s involvement, the authors give us a literary thriller that takes us back to a fascinating period of the Cold War—to a time when literature had the power to stir the world.

FDR, the Jews, and the Holocaust: Resolving the Controversy

May 19, 2014
Nearly seventy-five years after World War II, scholars hotly despite whether FDR was a hero of the Jews or a bystander or worse to the Nazi’s persecution and slaughter of Jews. In this talk Lichtman will draw upon the findings of his prize-winning book, FDR and the Jews (co-authored with Richard Breitman), to resolve the controversy. He will present a new portrait of a consummate politician— compassionate but also pragmatic—struggling with opposing priorities under perilous conditions.

Bankrupt: Detroit and the Future of Urban America

May 12, 2014
Detroit is the largest American municipality to have declared bankruptcy. Leading urban historian Thomas Sugrue examines the roots of the city's fiscal crisis, its implications for urban finance, pensions, and the future of American cities, and examines the opportunities and obstacles that Detroit faces in its efforts to restructure its local government, redevelop its downtown and neighborhoods, and reorganize its troubled economy.

Covert Legions: U.S. Army Intelligence and the Defense of Europe, 1944-1949

May 05, 2014
As the Third Reich collapsed, Soviet forces moved deep into Central Europe, and the United States had to adjust rapidly to the new political landscape. The intelligence services of the U.S. Army assumed a key role in informing Washington national security policy toward Europe during this critical period. This presentation discusses the early Cold War operations of U.S. Army intelligence as it sought to apprehend war criminals, suppress Nazi subversion, contain communism, and monitor the Red Army.

Triumph of Improvisation: Gorbachev's Adaptation, Reagan's Engagement, and the End of the Cold War

Apr 28, 2014
James Graham Wilson takes a long view of the end of the Cold War, from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to Operation Desert Storm. Wilson argues that adaptation, improvisation, and engagement by individuals in positions of power ended the specter of a nuclear holocaust. Eschewing the notion of a coherent grand strategy to end the Cold War, Wilson illuminates how leaders made choices and reacted to events they did not foresee.

America's Great Game: The CIA's Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East

Apr 21, 2014
The CIA has an almost diabolical reputation in the Arab world. Yet, in the early years of its existence, the 1940s and 1950s, the Agency was distinctly pro-Arab, lending its support to the leading Arab nationalist of the day, Gamal Nasser, and conducting an anti-Zionist publicity campaign at home in the U.S. Drawing on a wide range of sources, Hugh Wilford uncovers the world of early CIA “Arabism,” its origins, characteristic forms, and eventual demise.

‘Take Your Choice!’: Historical Reflections on the Act of Voting

Apr 07, 2014
The secret ballot is now considered the gold standard for fair elections around the globe. However, in the aftermath of the American and French Revolutions, voting in secrecy held little immediate mass appeal in the US or Europe, and the secret ballot was used in combination with a wide variety of voting techniques. The history of the fraught introduction of the secret ballot on both sides of the Atlantic provides an opportunity to explore how conceptions of the business of choice-making have changed since the Age of Revolutions and also to reconsider how we vote today.

An Unwanted Visionary: Gorbachev's Unrealized Ambitions and the Soviets' Retreat from Asia

Mar 31, 2014
Radchenko will offer a fresh interpretation of Mikhail Gorbachev’s foreign policy by showing how the Soviet leader tried to reshape the international order through engagement with China and India, and why his vision for a Soviet-led Asia ultimately failed. Relying on newly declassified records from Russian, Chinese and other archives, he will discuss lost opportunities and recount painful legacies of Soviet retrenchment from Asia.

Why We Fight: The Politics of World War II

Mar 24, 2014
The conventional wisdom suggests that moderates matter little. In her new book, Why We Fight: Congress and the Politics of World War II, Nancy Beck Young proves otherwise. Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman faced a fractious Congress riven by hardcore ideologues, circumstances that empowered moderates—from both parties—to cut deals on economic but not social justice policies. The dominant patterns for postwar politics emerged with liberalism seeming less oriented toward the welfare state and more to the vital center warfare state.

CANCELLED - Waking from the Dream Part 1: Martin Luther King's Last Victory

Mar 17, 2014
Most Americans have a distorted memory of the decline and fall of the Civil Rights Movement, David Chappell will argue. Press coverage at the time, and retrospective accounts from academia and mass media, blew the riots that followed the King assassination out of proportion.

Foreign Policy by Analogy: U.S. Decision-Making and the Uses of the Vietnam War

Feb 13, 2014
Over the four decades since U.S. forces came home from Vietnam, Americans have fiercely debated the lessons that the nation should draw from its longest and most controversial war. Mark Atwood Lawrence will suggest a scheme for making sense of how historians, polemicists, politicians, and other commentators have used – and will likely continue to use – the Vietnam analogy in thinking about policy decisions.

Australia's Historic Minimum Wage: A World History Approach

Feb 13, 2014
Histories of the minimum wage are usually written within national analytic frameworks. Research in the New York Public Library on the first minimum wage, legislated in Victoria, Australia, in 1896, convinced historian Marilyn Lake that a world history approach was necessary, one that located this experiment in “state socialism” in the context of both the longue duree of imperial labor relations and encounters between the subjects of the British and Chinese empires in the new world of urban Melbourne.

Racing Against Time: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over Saving Britain and Going to War

Feb 04, 2014
Today, we think of World War II as the "good war" – a necessary conflict to save Western civilization from the evil of Nazi Germany. But in the years leading up to Pearl Harbor, millions of Americans were swept up in a passionate, bitterly fought debate over what America's role should be in the war. At stake was the very shape and future of America.

'We are the true revolutionaries’: The Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the 1960s

Jan 29, 2014
The history of relations between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the Soviet Union and other Socialist states during the Vietnam War is usually told as a story of solidarity and “proletarian internationalism.” But there was another side: while the North Vietnamese celebrated “friendly relations” with Moscow and East Berlin and happily accepted aid provided by the Soviet bloc, they were deeply distrustful of Moscow’s policy of “peaceful co-existence” and the influence of “revisionist culture.”

The Past and Future of the Foreign Relations Series

Jan 22, 2014
In more than 450 volumes produced since its inception in 1861, the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Relations of the United States series presents the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity. State Department Historian Stephen P. Randolph will discuss the series’ past as well as the many challenges facing it today, not least technological developments that threaten the future of the bound volumes familiar to generations of diplomats and historians.

People Out of Place: A Constitutional History of the Long 1960s

Jan 08, 2014
Vagrancy laws made it a crime to be idle and poor, or dissolute, or to wander about without any purpose. African Americans and other civil rights activists, communists, labor union activists, poor people, Beats and hippies, gay men and lesbians, women, Vietnam War protestors and student activists, and young, urban minority men all contested their constitutionality. In 1971 and 1972, the Supreme Court struck them down. Risa Goluboff shows how this changing constitutional status of vagrancy laws was part and parcel of the larger social transformations of the long 1960s.

The Myth of Race and Its Many Political Uses, from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America

Nov 22, 2013
In this presentation, Jacqueline Jones will focus upon the different uses of the myth of race in specific times and places. The life-stories of a Maryland slave murdered by his master; a fugitive in Revolutionary South Carolina; a savvy businesswoman in antebellum Providence; a principled Republican in post-Civil War Savannah; a school principal in segregationist Mississippi; and a Marxist autoworker in industrial Detroit all suggest the shifting, contradictory nature of racial mythologies from the seventeenth century to the present.

Yellow and Gold: Chinese Gold Miners and the ‘Chinese Question’ in Pacific-World Settler Colonies, 1848-1910

Nov 26, 2013
Mae Ngai will address two transpacific circulations in the late-19th century — the movement of Chinese to the gold rushes of the Pacific world, including the forms of work and social organization that they brought with them from southern China and southeast Asia and their local adaptions; and the circulation and evolution of anti-Chinese racial politics from North America to Australia to South Africa, which led to restrictive and exclusionary measures.

Italy, the Cold War, and the Nuclear Dilemma: The Struggle over the NPT

Nov 20, 2013
Why do nuclear weapons matter? Italy's military nuclear policy throughout the Cold War was an attempt to achieve a position of parity with the major European powers. The Non-Proliferation Treaty, however, challenged this basic goal, and both the signature and the ratification of the treaty became two of the most controversial choices that postwar Italy had to face.

WordPower: Written Constitutions and British Worlds

Nov 12, 2013
The proliferation of new written constitutions after 1787 presented British governments with both opportunities and challenges. By way of its empire and international heft – and increasingly in order to compete with the US – the UK came to draft and influence more constitutions in more parts of the world than any other power.

The Other Welfare: Supplemental Security Income and U.S. Social Policy

Oct 30, 2013
Supplemental Security Income, passed in 1972 during an innovative and expansive phase of the American welfare state, marked an effort to do welfare right. But economic and political circumstances, as well as the contingencies of the moment, all combined to turn the program into a source of controversy over such things as whether parents coached their children to act “crazy” in an effort to secure benefits or whether immigrants deserved benefits.

The Family Jewels Then and Now

Oct 22, 2013
The famous 1970s investigations of the Central Intelligence Agency conducted by the Church Committee and others followed leaks of information from the intelligence agencies revealing activities that were illegal or abusive under the CIA’s charter. The CIA secretly compiled a document known as “The Family Jewels” detailing the abuses. This season of inquiry resulted in the intelligence oversight system that exists today. Now a fresh set of leaks confronts Americans, revealing widespread eavesdropping by the National Security Agency. What is the proper response to these revelations?

Indonesia and the World, 1965-66

Oct 09, 2013
Pro-communist coup, military counter-coup, and subsequent mass killings in Indonesia in 1965/66 represent one of the major dramas of the Cold War. The powerful domestic impact of those events continues to haunt Indonesia until today, while the role of foreign actors remains largely hidden. Basing their talk on the first international academic conference held on this subject on Indonesian territory (in 2011), the speakers will introduce their edited book, Indonesia and the World, 1965-66, discuss international complicities, and address the current state of debate.

Revolutionary Mosquitoes: Malaria, Yellow Fever, and Independence in the Americas, 1776-1825

Oct 02, 2013
John McNeill argues that yellow fever and malaria, both mosquito-borne diseases, helped make the Americas free. In the campaigns of 1780-81 in the Carolinas and Virginia, in the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804, in the wars of independence in the Spanish Americas of 1808-25, locally born and raised soldiers and militia enjoyed a strong advantage over European troops in terms of their resistance to these two infections. Did disease tip the military balance?

Latin America Encounters Nelson Rockefeller: Imagining the Gringo Patrón in 1969

Sep 30, 2013
In 1969, Nelson Rockefeller embarked on four ill-fated diplomatic tours of Latin America that inspired violent clashes between the state and the street. Contemporary observers and subsequent scholars have dismissed Gov. Rockefeller's goodwill effort as an unmitigated failure. In this talk, Ernesto Capello explores recently released documents, including selections from the thousands of solicitations sent to Rockefeller by ordinary citizens, which demonstrate the need to reevaluate Rockefeller's Presidential Mission as a critical moment in the way Cold War Latin America imagined its neighbors to the north.

The Worlds of Joseph Conrad

Sep 23, 2013
What does it feel like to live in a world transformed by new technology, new ideas, and new dynamics of world power? A century ago, the author Joseph Conrad provided vivid answers to questions we still ask today. In his novels Heart of Darkness (1899), Lord Jim (1900), Nostromo (1904), and The Secret Agent (1907) – each set on a different continent, each anchored in historical incidents and in personal experience – Conrad revealed the forces challenging European dominance, and anticipated the defining currents of the twentieth century.

Investing in Indebtedness: World History and Impoverishment in Africa

Sep 16, 2013
Modern Africa's impoverishment, though often alleged to have begun in the era of slaving, deepened during colonial rule, barely paused during the early years of national independence, intensified with the Cold War era of military rule, and – recently – provoked painful structural adjustment programs, has in fact been at the core of the continent’s relationship with the commercial economies surrounding it for a millennium and may reveal as much about world economies as about Africa itself.

More than Just a Scourge: General de Gaulle and the Cold War

Sep 09, 2013
General de Gaulle is often remembered as the great scourge of the Western Alliance during the 1960s, the mercurial French President who launched a global and comprehensive challenge against the United States’ leadership of the Free World. But de Gaulle was driven by more than simply obstructionism or a desire to make life difficult for his American allies. Garret Martin will make the case that the General pursued an ambitious, if flawed, grand strategy during the 1960s through which he sought to overcome the Cold War bipolar order.

Lincoln and Emancipation: Presidential Intent at Home and Abroad

May 07, 2013
During the American Civil War Abraham Lincoln stated that his paramount object was to save the Union, leading many since to question his reputation as “The Great Emancipator.” Emancipation and the nation’s unity were indivisible in Lincoln's mind, and it was for the fusion and pursuit of these two ideas that British and other foreign progressives of the time esteemed him so highly. What were the international repercussions of Lincoln’s actions? Even more basically, what were his actual motivations?

German Unification Twenty-Five Years Later

May 21, 2013
After the first quarter century of development since the overthrow of Communism and the reunification of East and West Germany, how does one draw up a balance sheet? How can one assess the transfer of political institutions, the economic crises, the difficulties of women’s adjustment? There were substantial successes but also significant failures. Many of the international moves of the Berlin Republic can only be understood by considering the difficult process of adjustment during and after unification.

American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White, and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama

May 06, 2013
American Tapestry illuminates the lives of the ordinary people in Mrs. Obama's family tree who fought for freedom in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars; who endured the agonies of slavery, the disappointment of Reconstruction, the displacement of the Great Migration, and the horrors of Jim Crow to build a better future for their children.

Getting Out of Iraq in 1932

Apr 18, 2013
Iraq was the single mandated territory—out of fourteen—to achieve independent statehood while still under the jurisdiction of the League of Nations. Overseeing this process, the League’s expert bodies became ever more skeptical of the panacea of independent statehood. Through this case, we can see this modern state system in the making.

Bureaucracy, Citizenship and Remembrance in Wartime Iraq

Apr 18, 2013
The Iraq war was a form of everyday bureaucratic governance with the Iraq government managing resistance and religious diversity and shaping a public culture in which soldiering and martyrdom became markers of privileged citizenship. The men and families of those who fought and died during the Iran-Iraq and First Gulf wars have memories not only of the political, social, and cultures changes in Iraq but also of the “normalization” of war.

Six Moments of Crisis: Inside British Foreign Policy

Apr 12, 2013
Gill Bennett, former Chief Historian of the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office leads a discussion entitled "Six Moments of Crisis: Inside British Foreign Policy."

Historical Perspective on the Arab Spring

Apr 05, 2013
In the Middle East, a parallel pattern can be seen in the history of the first Middle Eastern constitutional revolutions in the political movements of the 1870s. What does an examination of the role of constitutionalism in the Arab revolutions of 1923-2011 reveal about prospects for constitutional governments in the Middle East?

The Way the Wind Actually Blew: Weatherman Underground Terrorism and the Counterculture, 1969-1971

Mar 19, 2013
The most famous terrorist group in modern American history was the Weatherman Underground, later called the Weather Underground Organization. An outgrowth of Students for a Democratic Society, Weather was active in 1969 through the 1970s. Arthur Eckstein will argue that this is misleading and that the true history of Weather is much grimmer and more ambiguous.

A Muslim Weimar? Istanbul between the Wars

Feb 27, 2013
One reading of modern Turkish history focuses on the country's perpetual race to catch up with Europe. In the often forgotten world of interwar Istanbul, Muslims were the powerful hosts and Europeans the unwanted migrants.

The Arab Revolution

Feb 11, 2013
Arab academics and activists call the uprisings that started in early 2011 across the Arab world “revolutions.” Yet the “Arab Revolution” is both similar and dissimilar to the French, Russian, and other great revolutions that molded the history of the Western world, as described by Crane Brinton in his classic, The Anatomy of Revolution.

CANCELLED: Britain – the Question of Written Constitutions and the World Since 1776

Jan 28, 2013
After the American and French Revolutions, new-style written constitutions gradually came to be viewed as an essential symbol of a modern state. Britain fought against these two revolutions and has famously retained its un-codified constitution.

Six Months in 1945: The Origins of the Cold War

Jan 24, 2013
The Cold War effectively began in 1945, as soon as Americans and Russians encountered each other in the heart of Europe. But nobody, not least Stalin, wanted the Cold War.

The Significance of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation for America

Jan 17, 2013
What were Lincoln’s motives in deciding for general emancipation? The emancipation itself changed the nature of the war. It reflected a fundamental change in Lincoln’s own thinking about the relationship of slavery to the war as well as the future place of blacks in American life.

Was the Mexican Revolution of 1910 a Success?

Dec 03, 2012
The Mexican Revolution of 1910 had dramatic effects on both Mexico and the United States that have endured to the present day. This presentation deals with its armed phase (1910-1920) and its institutional, reformist, and state-building phase (c.1920–c.1940), as well as its longer-term legacy.

Women, Ecumenism, and Interracial Organizing

Nov 29, 2012
Bettye Collier-Thomas explores the ways in which black and white ecumenical Protestant women grappled with issues of race and ethnicity in the early twentieth century and how in doing so they contributed to laying the groundwork for the modern civil rights movement.

Leak: How (and Why) Mark Felt Became Deep Throat

Nov 09, 2012
Deep Throat, the most fabled secret source in American history, was regarded for decades as a conscientious but highly secretive whistleblower who shunned the limelight. But when the FBI’s former no. 2 executive, W. Mark Felt, came forward in 2005 to claim the mantle, questions about his true motivation began to be raised. Max Holland will discuss the Deep Throat puzzle, revealing for the first time in detail why Mark Felt leaked and his inadvertent place in history. In the process, Holland will lay bare the complex and often-problematic relationship that exists between the Washington press corps and federal officials.

The Remarkable Past and Present Fate of UNESCO

Nov 09, 2012
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural, and Communications Organization (UNESCO) grew from seeds planted during World War II and enjoyed bipartisan Congressional support as it joined the UN family in the 1940s. But controversy overtook it; the United States withdrew by 1984. It re-entered nearly twenty years later, but objecting to the agency’s 2011 vote to admit the Palestinian Authority, it began extracting itself once again. Barring a political miracle, the United States will assume observer status by this time next year. What will be the consequences?
Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty: The CIA Years and Beyond by A. Ross Johnson

Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty: The CIA Years and Beyond

Oct 01, 2010

Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty examines the first twenty years of the organization, policies, and impact of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, arguably one of the most important and successful policy instruments of the United States during the Cold War.

POSTPONED--The Worlds of Joseph Conrad

Oct 16, 2012
What were the historical circumstances behind Joseph Conrad's history of the fin-de-siècle as a turning point in international history? In his novels Heart of Darkness (1899), Lord Jim (1900), Nostromo (1904), and The Secret Agent (1907)--each set on a different continent, each engaging with a different imperial power, each anchored in real-world incidents and in his own personal experience--Conrad anticipated some of the defining themes of the twentieth century.

Reform Without End: Europe’s Welfare Traditions

Sep 28, 2012
Surveying Europe’s welfare traditions since 1500, in this seminar session Tom Adams will discuss characteristics of the modern European welfare state, many rooted in long-held values and centuries of experience. Profound social changes have repeatedly challenged communities to re-examine and reshape institutions and practices. The diversity of arrangements across Europe has contributed to an ongoing exchange of observation, experiment, and aspiration – in short, to reform without end.

The Future of American Coasts

Sep 28, 2012
America began as a coastal country, and, after a century of identifying with its heartland, is now returning to the sea demographically, economically, and culturally. Today, more of us live on coasts, but few know how to live with them in a sustainable manner. Coastal futures depend on the recovery of the oldest form of intelligent human life, homo littoralis. In this talk John Gillis will explore the ways humans have shaped shores and how shores have shaped humanity.

Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics

Sep 24, 2012
Steven Ross challenges the commonly held belief that Hollywood has always been a bastion of liberalism. The real story, he argues, is far more complicated. First, Hollywood has a longer history of conservatism than liberalism. Second, and most surprising, while the Hollywood Left was usually more vocal and visible, the Right had a greater impact on American political life, capturing a senate seat (Murphy), a governorship (Schwarzenegger), and the ultimate achievement, the Presidency (Reagan).

Thirteen Days and More: A Soviet Perspective on the Cuban Missile Crisis

Sep 24, 2012
Fifty years ago, the world spent thirteen days transfixed as the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. engaged in a contest of wills over placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Svetlana Savranskaya will discuss behind-the-scenes maneuvers by Soviet second-in-command Anastas Mikoyan, revealing that the crisis lasted into November and involved plans by the U.S.S.R. to leave tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba, foiled not by U.S. resolve, but by Fidel Castro’s own actions.

National Security vs. a Market Economy: A Cold War Dilemma

Sep 10, 2012
The Cold War was an overarching reality for American presidents from Truman to George H.W. Bush. In fact, prosecuting the Cold War posed a profound dilemma for all presidents, but especially for Dwight D. Eisenhower. Wm. M. McClenahan, Jr. and Wm. H. Becker argue that economic policy was second only to national security in Ike’s mind. How was the United States to engage in the Cold War without undermining American political democracy and a market economy? Preserving the American way of life was to Eisenhower the preeminent objective of the Cold War.

The 1967 War and the Demise of Arab Nationalism

Sep 10, 2012
The defeat of Egypt and Syria in the 1967 is often described as a deathblow to pan-Arabism, and it did indeed gravely undermine the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Egyptians, Syrians and Palestinians had in fact already begun to shift towards narrower nation-state nationalism even before the 1967 war, which merely confirmed this reorientation.

The Tragic Irony of America’s Worldwide Struggle for Democracy

Apr 12, 2012
Tony Smith discusses liberal internationalism

A Protean Hatred: Anti-Zionism in Germany, 1933–1989

Apr 03, 2012
This seminar discussion will draw on published and archival sources to shed light on the history of the global anti-Zionist campaign of the 1970s challenged by Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan at the United Nations.

The Outbreak of World War I

Apr 05, 2012
This seminar talk will discuss the consequences of World War One and suggests ways of considering the issue.

The Lumumba Assassination and CIA Accountability

Mar 26, 2012
Stephan Weissman discusses the controversy that has swirled over alleged U.S. Government responsibility for the assassination of the former Belgian Congo's democratically elected Prime Minister.

Reassessing Exploration: The West in the World

Mar 22, 2012
This seminar talk will review recent efforts to reassess the history of exploration.

Peaceful Resolution of Ethnic Tension

Mar 13, 2012
Karl Meyer and Shareen Brysac discuss historical perspective on ethnic peace.

July 1914: Revisited and Revised—or The End of the German Paradigm

Mar 08, 2012
Samuel Williams Jr. discusses and reevaluates German and Russian actions in 1914.

Unmitigated Gaul: The French Confront America, 1980–2000

Mar 08, 2012
Richard Kuisel discusses French attitudes towards American policies, practices, and values during the 1980's and 1990's.

The United States and the 1967 Arab-Israeli War

Feb 23, 2012
Charles Smith from the University of Arizona discusses the legacy of the 1967 War and its long term effects.

Jean Monnet and the Future of Europe

Feb 13, 2012
Sherrill Wells discusses the impact Jean Monnet had on European and American politics after World War II.

Islam & Democracy for the 21st Century

Jan 31, 2012
John Voll will examine the intersection of politics and religion in five Islamic countries.

Barbary Coasts: North Africa, Colonialism, and the Mediterranean, c. 1820-2011

Jan 31, 2012
Wilson Center Fellow Julia Clancy-Smith discusses North Africa, Colonialism, and the Mediterranean from 1820 until present.

Roosevelt and Churchill

Jan 20, 2012
Warren Kimball, Robert Treat Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University will reflect on the problems he faced in compiling letters and other communications, on research in the pre-computer age, and on his thoughts about the two men and their policies at the time.

Abraham Lincoln and the Irish

Jan 12, 2012
Kevin Kenny, professor of history at Boston College will give a presentation entitled "Abraham Lincoln and the Irish."

Is American History "Exceptional?" A Global Perspective

Nov 07, 2011
Following World War II, the dominant narrative of U.S. history posited "American exceptionalism." That assumption shaped historical scholarship and Cold War policy. More recently a neo-conservative belief in exceptionalism has affected international and domestic history. A global perspective reveals that our history is not "exceptional," only distinctive. Every major moment in American history--Revolution, Civil War, Progressivism, and the New Deal, for example--is part of a larger transnational history.

Could the War in Vietnam Have Ended Earlier?

Nov 22, 2011
The Vietnam War cost the lives of more than 58,000 Americans (and millions of Vietnamese) and convulsed U.S. politics and culture in the 1960s. Could it have ended years earlier, and with a far smaller toll?

Black Leaders and Leadership

Nov 03, 2011
“Black Leaders and Leadership” is a presentation based on the ten-year oral history project co-directed by Julian Bond and Phyllis Leffler. It relates the views of fifty Black leaders on such topics as family, education, and the inspiration of the Civil Rights movement.

Reassessing Walter Lippmann

Nov 09, 2011
Professor of International Relations Ronald Steel speaks about the career and legacy of renowned journalist Walter Lippman.

The Economics of the Civil Rights Revolution in the South

Nov 02, 2011
Organized in collaboration with the History and Public Policy Program and the National History Center.

Missed Opportunities for Peace? The United States, Jordan and the 1967 Arab-Israeli War

Oct 28, 2011
Nigel Ashton from the London School of Economics hosts a seminar regarding US and Jordanian decision-making prior to the Six Day War in June 1967.

Statelessness in 20th-Century America

Oct 19, 2011
Linda K. Kerber, May Brodbeck Professor of History at the University of Iowa will examine such developments in the context of the history of statelessness in the 20th century, focusing on the evolution of the sixty -year-old UN convention on refugees and stateless persons, a document the United States has not signed.

The Contested Legacy of the Berlin Wall

Oct 07, 2011
Hope Harrison, Wilson Center public policy scholar speaks on the mixed legacy of the Berlin Wall in German consciousness and history, in regards to the recent efforts to preserve parts of the wall.

Why We Botch the Ends of Wars

Sep 30, 2011
A persistent theme in American history in wartime is a failure to plan carefully for the aftermath of wars. Obsessed with the military aspects of their struggles, neither military nor civilian leaders pay close attention to political issues until the shooting is about to stop, making the achievement of a durable settlement dramatically harder.

Dag Hammarskjold, His Critics, and the United Nations in 1956

Sep 28, 2011
Wm. Roger Louis from the University of Texas discusses the extremely significant role of Dag Hammarskjold in the 1956 Suez Crisis, a pivotal point in UN history with an impact still felt in today's peacekeeping missions.

"Rogue States" and the United States: A Historical Perspective

Sep 19, 2011
Vice President for Programs and Director of International Security Studies at the Woodrow Wilson Center Robert Litwak answers some of the biggest questions surrounding the relationship between today's "Rogue States" (North Korea, Libya, Iran) and the United States.

Iran 1953 and the Uses of Middle East History

Sep 12, 2011
Former New York Times Istanbul Bureau Chief Stephen Kinzer ties together the events of the 1953 Iranian Coup, the evolution of present-day Iran and Turkey and the upheaval of today's "Arab Spring."

South Africa and the End of Apartheid

Jul 07, 2011
Upon his release from prison, Nelson Mandela led the crowd in a rousing chant of the old resistance phrase, "Come Back Africa." Now, twenty years later, we may begin to ask what kind of Africa is coming back. The question can be addressed by looking beyond the struggle of the African National Congress to focus on ordinary people's mobilizations in the past. A history of generational conflict, chiefship, and trans-ethnic solidarity continues to be felt in the present.

America's International Civil War

Jul 07, 2011
While the military contest between North and South dragged on inconclusively over four years, an equally crucial contest of diplomacy, ideology, and propaganda was waged abroad. Powerful economic interests and anti-democratic sympathies favored the South. On the other hand there was a reservoir of popular good will toward the "Great Republic" and widespread antipathy toward human slavery. Each side sought to shape foreign debate over the "American Question." The Union won only when it learned to align its cause with what foreigners understood to be an ongoing international struggle for liberty, equality, and self-government.

Civil Military Relations: At the Heart of Military History

Jul 07, 2011
Military historians of the modern era have often neglected the relationship between the armed forces and the state, particularly its effect on outcomes in war and military policy and activity during peacetime. Yet some of the more famous writing on military theory have emphasized the importance of the topic. Military historians of the United States, as the literature reveals, have only now begun to address the subject systematically and in depth.

American Biography After the Cold War

Jul 07, 2011
What are the issues of judgment, perspective, and stance that confront historians whose subjects played a role in debates about Stalinism, McCarthyism, and Communism? In the years when the Cold War shaped perceptions, historians identified themselves with particular political positions. But what is the view toward such issues today? Is the intellectual Cold War over? Or does it still constrain our minds and our words? Lillian Hellman will serve as a case in point in this presentation with Columbia University R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of American History Alice Kessler-Harris.

Kissinger's Realpolitik and American Exceptionalism

Jul 07, 2011
Henry Kissinger is perhaps the most famous and most controversial American diplomat of the twentieth century. Much of the literature about him emphasizes his geopolitical approach to international relations, his European background, and his advocacy of Realpolitik. But to a large extent of his foreign policy was fundamentally shaped and conditioned by domestic politics. Kissinger ultimately failed to bring about a different approach to foreign policy, one moving beyond American exceptionalism and toward an understanding of the limits of power.

The Russian Imperial Legacy—Stalin and the Outbreak of the War in the East: Barbarossa

Jul 07, 2011
Few events in the history of the twentieth century are as controversial, politicized, and laden with emotion as is the launching of operation Barbarossa—the German Invasion of Russia. It has become a fertile ground for conspiracy theories and a subject of unending polemics. This presentation will discuss a vital but missing dimension: the subjugation of ideological premises to the everlasting Russian imperial legacy as the driving force behind Stalin's policies on the eve of operation Barbarossa.

The 'Good Occupation': Military Government in the American Imagination

Jul 07, 2011
Military occupation has been a crucial dimension of U.S. foreign relations from the early nineteenth century to the present. The occupations of Germany and Japan in the wake of the Second World War generally were regarded positively. The occupation of Iraq, which initially met with some approbation, eventually tarnished the reputation of the George W. Bush administration. Wilson Center fellow Susan L. Carruthers will explain the transformation of public attitude.

Rethinking the History of the French Welfare State

Jul 07, 2011
This seminar will delineate the French welfare state in long-term historical perspective and consider the multiple strands of tradition, institutions, and policies that contributed to its founding and development. It will link practices to successive political regimes and make comparisons between French and British welfare systems. What are the possible future directions of French welfare policy in view of past precedents and current conditions?

Liberty's Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from Washington to Obama

Aug 23, 2011
Jeremi Suri, provocative historian and one of Smithsonian magazine’s “Top Young Innovators,” takes on the idea of American exceptionalism and turns it into a playbook for President Obama over the next, vital few years.

Churchill's Cold War Revisited

Jul 07, 2011
Winston Churchill's 1946 "iron curtain" speech was the opening shot in the Cold War for Stalin, Khrushchev, and most other Soviet leaders. Churchill's summit diplomacy of the years 1953–55, however, called for German unification on the basis of neutrality and the peaceful end of the East-West conflict. How can this apparent contradiction be explained? What were Churchill's motives? Klaus Larres revisits these issues and argues that Churchill's policies were coherent and made contributions toward possible solutions in a creative way.

Territory, Statehood, and Sovereignty from Westphalia to Globalization

Jul 07, 2011
The possession of territory or bounded political space has been crucial for the modern state, but historians and political analysts have left its properties unexamined. How have the premises and practices of territoriality changed from the seventeenth century to our own era?

Unfinished Business: Archives After Conflict in Guatemala, Sierra Leone, and South Africa

Jul 07, 2011
When a country emerges from conflict, citizens demand that perpetrators be held accountable for past violations of human rights; that the governmental system be reformed to prevent a future recurrence of past repressive practices; that the truth be told about what really happened, both in personal terms (such as learning the fate of a loved one) and in terms of how the society came to be what it was; and that reparation be made for the moral and material losses suffered during the period of oppression. Archives are essential to meet these demands.

Beyond Our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves

Nov 17, 2011
If the financial crisis has taught us anything, it is that Americans save too little, spend too much, and borrow excessively. Join us for a discussion of Sheldon Garon's new book "Beyond Our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves."

Oil and World Power

Jul 07, 2011
David Painter, Associate Professor of History, Department of History and Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

Accidents and Axioms: The Curious History of U.S. Foreign Policy

Jul 07, 2011
Philip D. Zelikow, White Burkett Miller Professor of History, University of Virginia

The Protestant Boomerang: American Missionaries and the United States

Jul 07, 2011
David A. Hollinger, University of California, Berkeley

How Special Has the Anglo-American 'Special Relationship' Since 1945 Really Been?

Jul 07, 2011
Brian Harrison, Emeritus Fellow of Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford

Ordinary People and the American Revolution

Jul 07, 2011
Timothy H. Breen, William Smith Mason Professor of American History, Northwestern University

Cold War Legacies

Jul 07, 2011
Melvyn P. Leffler, Wilson Center Fellow

Reflections on the Mau Mau and the End of Empire

Jul 07, 2011
Caroline Elkins, Harvard University

Francois Mitterand and the Dilemmas of the Cold War

Jul 07, 2011
Frederic Bozo, Fellow, Woodrow Wilson Center

Why a Congress and Not a Parliament

Jul 07, 2011
Donald A. Ritchie, U.S. Senate Historian

Changing Concepts of Love Since the Eighteenth Century

Jul 07, 2011
Luisa Passerini, University of Turin

C. Vann Woodward and the Civil Rights Movement

Jul 07, 2011
Sheldon Hackney, University of Pennsylvania

The Eternal Question of Counterinsurgency

Jul 07, 2011
Marilyn B. Young, New York University

The French and American Revolutions and Modern Democracy

Jul 07, 2011
David Bell, Princeton University

States, Nations, and the Problem of the Nation-State

Jul 07, 2011
James J. Sheehan, Stanford University

Rising Inequality and the Return of Jim Crow

Jul 07, 2011
Devin Fergus, Assistant Professor of History, Vanderbilt University, and Fellow, Woodrow Wilson Center

Nikita Khrushchev and the Fate of the Soviet Union

Jul 07, 2011
Vladislav Zubok, Temple University

American Ascendancy in the Pacific

Jul 07, 2011
Bruce Cumings, Distinguished Service Professor in History, University of Chicago

Modern Economics and the Nemesis of History

Jul 07, 2011
Volker Berghahn, Seth Low Professor of History, Columbia University

The History of the West Through Arab Eyes

Jul 07, 2011
Eugene Rogan, St. Antony's College, Oxford University

African Americans and Independence Struggles in Asia and Africa

Jul 07, 2011
Carol Anderson, Emory University

Wilson Versus Wilsonian

Jul 07, 2011
John Milton Cooper, Jr., University of Wisconsin, Madison

International Human Rights in Historical Perspective

Jul 07, 2011
Stanley N. Katz, Director, Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Princeton University

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • James Person // Deputy Director, History and Public Policy Program; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Pieter Biersteker // Editorial Assistant
  • Laura Deal // Catalog Specialist
  • Charles Kraus // Program Assistant
  • Evan Pikulski // Program Assistant
  • Roy O. Kim // Program Assistant