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The Great American Mission: Modernization and the Construction of an American World Order

March 04, 2010 // 3:00pm4:30pm
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History and Public Policy Program
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David Ekbladh's latest book, The Great American Mission traces how America's global modernization efforts during the twentieth century were a means to remake the world in its own image. Ekbladh describes how ambitious New Deal programs like the Tennessee Valley Authority became symbols of American liberalism's ability to marshal the social sciences, state planning, civil society, and technology to produce extensive social and economic change. For proponents, it became a valuable weapon to check the influence of menacing ideologies such as Fascism and Communism.

Modernization took on profound geopolitical importance as the United States grappled with these threats. After World War II, modernization remained a means to contain the growing influence of the Soviet Union. U.S.-led nation-building efforts in global hot spots, enlisted an array of nongovernmental groups and international organizations, and were a basic part of American strategy in the Cold War, argues Ekbladh. The end of the Cold War further obscured modernization's mission, but many of its assumptions regained prominence after September 11 as the United States moved to contain new threats. Comments will be provided by Wilson Center Senior Scholar John Sewell.

David Ekbladh is assistant professor of history at Tufts University and a Research Fellow with the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University. His first book, The Great American Mission: Modernization and the Construction of an American World Order has just been published by Princeton University Press. He is currently working on a book that traces rise of a new American globalism in the 1930s.

John W. Sewell is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His current research analyzes how globalization has affected the American national interests in the developing world. In 2008 he chaired an Expert's Group that produced A Memo to the Next President: Promoting American Interests through Smarter, More Strategic Global Policies that called for a new national development strategy. He also has published a Wilson Center policy paper entitled The Realpolitik of Ending Poverty: An Action Plan for American Foreign Policy. Sewell is the former President of the Overseas Development Council (ODC). He has written extensively on globalization and development issues.

He serves as Chair the Board of New Rules for Global Finance, an NGO working on reform of the international financial institutions. For many years, he served on the Board of Director of The International Center for Research on Women, including as Vice Chairman. He also is a member of the advisory board of Global Governance.

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