Monthly Archives: February 2017

3/6: The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest with Walter McDougall

“Call it American diplomatic history in the metaphysical mode.”  Thus does Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Walter McDougall describe this pensive essay on the devolution of the civil religious faith that has inspired the nation (in pretense or reality) ever since 1776. The foreign policies of a “God blessed” America, shaped by elite perceptions of the nation’s geopolitics, economics, and theology, have already passed through five major phases increasingly toxic both abroad and at home.  Will its heretical culmination be self-extinction in a globalized civil religion, as the great sociologist Robert Bellah prophesied back in the 1960s?

Walter A. McDougall holds a chaired professorship in International Relations and History at the University of Pennsylvania and serves as Director of Research at Philadelphia’s Foreign Policy Research Institute.  His previous books include  …the Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (1985); Let the Sea Make a Noise: A History of the North Pacific (1992); Promised Land, Crusader State (1997); Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History 1585-1828 (2004); and Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era 1829-1877 (2008).  He is a Vietnam veteran and a lifelong aficionado of books, maps, Chicago sports, and music from Bach to Bob Dylan.

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.

2/27: Timothy Breen on An Appeal to Heaven: The American Revolution

T.H. Breen will present a paper entitled “Enforcing the Revolution,” which explores topics to be incorporated into his forthcoming book An Appeal to Heaven: The American Revolution.  In this talk Breen investigates how supporters of the Revolution, many of them living in small communities not directly affected by military campaigns, managed so successfully to sustain political and military resistance to Great Britain over eight years of war and more narrowly, how they created powerful structures of ideological control that effectively curtailed the possibility of a meaningful counter-revolution.

T.H. Breen is the William Smith Mason Professor of American History Emeritus at Northwestern University and the James Marsh Professor at-large at the University of Vermont.  His recent writings have focused on the history of the American Revolution.  He has authored The Marketplace of Revolution, American Insurgents: American Patriots, and George Washington’s Journey: The President Forges a New Nation, which was awarded the Society of Cincinnati Book award for 2016.  Breen has recently held the Rockefeller Fellowship at Colonial Williamsburg, a Humboldt Foundation Award at the Munich Center for Advanced Studies, and is currently the John Kluge Professor of American Law and Governance at the Library of Congress.

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.

2/13: Edward Balleisen on Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff

Economic duplicity has bedeviled American markets from the founding of the Republic. Historian Edward Balleisen explores the enduring connections between capitalist innovation and fraud, as well as the vexed efforts to curb the worst business deceptions by private organizations and state agencies. Placing recent fraud scandals in long-term context, he shows that we rely solely on a policy of caveat emptor at our peril; and that a mixture of public education, sensible disclosure rules, and targeted enforcement campaigns can contain the problem of business fraud.

Edward J. Balleisen is Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies and Associate Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University.  His most recent book is: Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff (2017).  Other volumes include Navigating Failure: Bankruptcy and Commercial Society in Antebellum America (2001); Government and Markets: Toward a New Theory of Regulation (2009, co-edited with David Moss); and a three volume research collection, Business Regulation (2015).  He has won three teaching prizes at Duke, and is a leader in the national conversation on reconfiguring doctoral education in the humanities.

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.