Category Archives: Washington History Seminar

Sponsored jointly by the National History Center and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Washington History Seminar meets each week, January to May and September to December, on Monday afternoons at 4 o’clock at the Wilson Center. It aims to facilitate understanding of contemporary affairs in light of historical knowledge of all times and all places and from a variety of perspectives. For the latest schedule, please click on Spring 2012 Schedule. For more information on past speakers, topics, and videos, please click on Washington History Seminar Schedule.

1/23: Svetlana Savranskaya and Thomas Blanton on “The Last Superpower Summits: Gorbachev, Reagan, and Bush: Conversations that Ended the Cold War”

The Last Superpower Summits: Gorbachev, Reagan, and Bush: Conversations that Ended the Cold War publishes the fullest verbatim account ever in print of the historic summit meetings between the American and Soviet leaders – Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, and George H.W. Bush – from 1985 to 1991.  Obtained by the authors through the Freedom of Information Act in the U.S., from the Gorbachev Foundation and the State Archive of the Russian Federation in Moscow, and from the personal donation of Anatoly Chernyaev, these previously TOP SECRET transcripts from both sides include almost every word that Gorbachev, Reagan, and Bush actually said to each other.  The transcripts combine with key declassified preparatory and after-action documents from both sides to create a unique interactive documentary record of these epochal highest-level talks – the conversations that ended the Cold War.

The authors argue in contextual essays on each summit and detailed headnotes on each document that the summits fueled a process of learning on both sides.  Geneva 1985 and Reykjavik 1986 reduced Moscow’s sense of threat and unleashed Reagan’s inner abolitionist.  Malta 1989 and Washington 1990 helped dampen any superpower sparks that might have flown in a time of revolutionary change in Eastern Europe, set off by Gorbachev and by Eastern Europeans (Polish Solidarity, dissidents, reform Communists).  Moscow 1991 featured Bush at his peak after winning the first Gulf War, and Gorbachev on the downward slide that would end with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991.  The high level and scope of the dialogue between these world leaders was unprecedented, and likely never to be repeated.

Svetlana Savranskaya is director of Russia programs and Thomas Blantonis executive director at the National Security Archive (George Washington University).  They won the 2011 Link-Kuehl Prize from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations for their book, “Masterpieces of History”: The Peaceful End of the Cold War in Europe, 1989 (CEU Press), and have co-authored more than three dozen electronic briefing books on Cold War summits, dissidents, flashpoints, and legacies (see http://nsarchive.gwu.edu).  She graduated from Moscow State University and earned her Ph.D. at Emory University; he is a graduate of Harvard University and won the 2004 Emmy Award for news and documentary research.

4:00pm-5:30pm
Woodrow Wilson Center, 6th Floor Moynihan Ballroom

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

12/12: Susan Carruthers on “The Good Occupation: American Soldiers and the Hazards of Peace”

In the seven decades since World War II ended, Americans have come to regard their postwar reconstructive ventures in defeated Germany and Japan as shining examples of “nation building” at its best. The “good war” was, fittingly enough, followed by the “good occupation.” But for millions of American service personnel, membership of an army of occupation was a perplexing, oftentimes dispiriting, experience. Drawing on hundreds of letters and diaries produced by uniformed men and women of every rank, Susan L. Carruthers explores the intimate phenomenology of postwar soldiering. This talk, based on her newly published book, The Good Occupation: American Soldiers and the Hazards of Peace (Harvard University Press, 2016) suggests a more fraught history of a surprisingly neglected topic: military victory.

Susan L. Carruthers is Professor of History (US & the World) at Rutgers University-Newark, where she has taught since 2002. Over the past decade, she has also held visiting fellowships at Harvard’s Charles Warren Center (2006-07), the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (2010-11) and the Shelby Cullom Davis Center at Princeton (2015-16). Her books include Cold War Captives (University of California Press, 2009); The Media At War (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), and The Good Occupation: American Soldiers and the Hazards of Peace (Harvard University Press, 2016).

4:00pm – 5:30pm
Woodrow Wilson Center, 6th Floor Moynihan Boardroom

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.

12/5: Jeremy Friedman on “Shadow Cold War: The Sino-Soviet Competition for the Third World”

The Cold War is often seen as a bilateral US-Soviet conflict, but Jeremy Friedman argues that the Sino-Soviet split was deeply consequential for the fate of Asia, Africa, and Latin America as well for the adherents of the left worldwide. While the Soviets prioritized the replacement of capitalism by socialism, the Chinese instead saw the defeat of imperialism as the primary revolutionary objective. Coming in the wake of decolonization, the Sino-Soviet clash became the geopolitical vehicle for the new nations of the Global South to alter the Second World’s revolutionary agenda.

Jeremy Friedman is an Assistant Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Previously he was the Associate Director of the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy at Yale, after receiving his Ph.D. from Princeton in 2011. In addition to Shadow Cold War: The Sino-Soviet Competition for the Third World (UNC Press, 2015), he has published articles in Cold War History and Modern China Studies. His current project, “Modelling Revolution: Constructing Third World Socialisms,” looks at the attempt to find a workable model of socialism for developing countries.

4:00pm – 5:30pm
Woodrow Wilson Center, 6th Floor Moynihan Boardroom

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.