Category Archives: Public Events

National History Center events, including sessions at the American Historical Association annual meetings and more.

June 9: Congressional Briefing on Intelligence

The National History Center of the American Historical Association will be presenting a Congressional briefing on the history of Congress’s relationship with the intelligence community.  The briefing will be held on June 9, 2014, at 9:30 a.m. in Room 121 of the Cannon House Office Building.  Professors Laura Donohue of Georgetown Law School and Mark Lowenthal of The Intelligence & Security Academy and Johns Hopkins University will discuss the origins and consequences of the Church Committee and more.  James Grossman, the Chairman of the National History Center’s Board and Executive Director of the American Historical Association, will moderate the discussion.

Congressional oversight of intelligence is a recurring flashpoint in Executive-Congressional relations. Dr. Mark Lowenthal, who has served as the staff director of the House Intelligence Committee and as a senior intelligence officer (State, CIA), will discuss the origins of the current intelligence oversight system and touch on some of the key developments that have helped shape the current system and serve as a prelude to today’s intelligence oversight issues.

In the early 1970s, as Dr. Laura Donohue will explain, public allegations related to intelligence agencies’ impropriety, illegal activities, and abuses of authority prompted both Houses of Congress to create temporary committees to investigate the accusations: the House Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities.   The allegations centered on activities undertaken by three organizations: the NSA, the FBI, and the CIA.  The Senate Select Committee, Chaired by Senator Frank F. Church (D-ID), with the assistance of Senator John G. Tower (R-TX) as Vice Chairman, was a bipartisan initiative.

The Committee found that broad domestic surveillance programs, conducted under the guise of foreign intelligence collection, had undermined U.S. citizens’ privacy rights.   The illegal activities, abuse of authority, and violations of privacy uncovered by the Church Committee (as well as the Rockfeller Commission, the Pike Committee, and the Murphy commission) spurred a number of reforms, including (1) creation of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Senate Resolution 400 (passed within a month of the Church Committee’s final report); (2) Creation of the House Permanent Select committee on Intelligence; (3) Executive Order 11905 (banning political assassination/creating a new command structure, requiring the CIA IG to be involved in internal oversight, followed by Carter’s Executive Order 12036 in 1978); (4) the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; and (5) various administrative initiatives, such as a reduction in the size of the intelligence community and development of a new mechanism for intelligence estimates.

Part of the National History Center’s series of sessions aimed at providing Congressional staff members with the historical context necessary to understand issues of current legislative concern, the briefing is open to the public.

For further information, please contact the Center’s assistant director, Amanda Moniz, at or 202-450-3209.




March 3 (Rescheduled to April 28): James Graham Wilson: “The Triumph of Improvisation: Gorbachev’s Adaptation, Reagan’s Engagement, and the End of the Cold War”

In this presentation to the Washington History Seminar based on his book, The Triumph of Improvisation, 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.

James Graham Wilson received his Ph.D. in diplomatic history from the University of Virginia in 2011 and his B.A. from Vassar College in 2003. He currently works on Soviet and National Security Policy volumes for the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series in the Office of the Historian at the Department of State.

Report from the Field: To be announced

The Washington History Seminar, a joint venture of the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, meets at 4 p.m. in the 6th Floor Moynihan Boardroom at the Wilson Center in the Ronald Reagan Building, 13th and Pennsylvania, NW, Federal Triangle Metro Stop. Reservations are requested because of limited seating:

The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations for its support.

A webcast and podcast of the talk will be available here later.

February 24: Marilyn Lake: “Australia’s Historic Minimum Wage: A World History Approach”

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. This presentation to the Washington History Seminar will take that approach.

Marilyn Lake is Professor in History and Australian Research Council Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne. Her recent publications include Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the International Campaign for Racial Equality (2008), co-authored with Henry Reynolds; and the articles “Chinese colonists assert their ‘common human rights'” in the Journal of World History (2010) and “Colonial Australia in its Regional Context” in The Cambridge History of Australia, vol. 1 (2013).

Report from the Field: To be announced

The Washington History Seminar, a joint venture of the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, will convene at 4:00 p.m. in the Wilson Center’s 6th Floor Moynihan Boardroom in the Ronald Reagan Building at 13th and Pennsylvania, NW, in Washington, DC, above the Federal Triangle Metro Stop (Blue & Orange Lines). Reservations are requested because of limited seating: