The National History Center of the American Historical Association provides a venue in the nation's capital for all who care about the human past to make history an essential part of public conversations about current events and the shared futures of the United States and the wider world.

Upcoming WHS Seminar

Please join us for a Washington History Seminar presentation by Anne Applebaum on Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism

Monday, August 17 at 4:00 pm EST

Click here to register for the webinar
Or watch on live our Facebook Page

Space in the Zoom webinar is available on a first-come first-serve basis and fills up very quickly, if you are unable to join the session or receive an error message you can still watch on the NHC’s Facebook Page or the Wilson Center’s website.

From the United States and Britain to continental Europe and beyond, liberal democracy is under siege, while authoritarianism is on the rise. In Twilight of Democracy, Anne Applebaum, an award-winning historian of Soviet atrocities who was one of the first American journalists to raise an alarm about antidemocratic trends in the West, explains the lure of nationalism and autocracy. In this captivating essay, she contends that political systems with radically simple beliefs are inherently appealing, especially when they benefit the loyal to the exclusion of everyone else. Despotic leaders do not rule alone; they rely on political allies, bureaucrats, and media figures to pave their way and support their rule. The authoritarian and nationalist parties that have arisen within modern democracies offer new paths to wealth or power for their adherents. Applebaum describes many of the new advocates of illiberalism in countries around the world, showing how they use conspiracy theory, political polarization, social media, and even nostalgia to change their societies. Elegantly written and urgently argued, Twilight of Democracy is a brilliant dissection of a world-shaking shift and a stirring glimpse of the road back to democratic values.

Anne Applebaum
is a staff writer for The Atlantic and a Senior Fellow of the Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University. Her previous books include Iron Curtain, winner of the Cundill Prize and a finalist for the National Book Award, and Gulag, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction and a finalist for three other major prizes. She lives in Poland with her husband, Radek Sikorski, a Polish politician, and their two children.

NHC Congressional Briefing
Vaccine Development: Historical Perspectives

As everyone knows, Covid-19 has struck millions, paralyzed economies, and upended the lives of countless people around the globe.  The race for a vaccine is on, absorbing vast sums of public and private funding and the energies of a vast number of scientists.  The current search for a medical solution to Covid-19 is a constant on cable television, the internet, and daily newspapers.  This National History Center Congressional Briefing steps back from the current moment to offer reflections on the history and usage of vaccines in the past century.

Click here to watch the briefing.


Theresa MacPhail is an assistant professor at Stevens Institute of Technology. She received her BA in Journalism from the University of New Hampshire, an MA in Social Sciences and Humanities at New York University, and a PhD in medical anthropology from the University of California – Berkeley. Her research centers on the culture of public health, the production of scientific knowledge, networks of expertise, information sharing, and everyday lived experiences of epidemiologists, microbiologists, biomedical scientists, and medical practitioners. She is the author of The Viral Network: A Pathography of the H1N1 Influenza Pandemic, published by Cornell University Press in 2014, and a medical thriller entitled The Eye of the Virus.  She is currently researching the rise of allergies in the United States and China.

Thomas Ewing is a professor of history at Virginia Tech and the associate dean for graduate studies and research at the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. He is the author of The Teachers of Stalinism: Policy, Practice, and Power in Soviet Schools in the 1930s (2002) and co-editor of Viral Networks: Connecting Digital Humanities and Medical History (2018). He is currently researching the so-called “Russian Influenza” (1889-1890), coordinates the Data in Social Context program at Virginia Tech which sustains an interdisciplinary approach of data analytics, computational skills, and critical thinking in the humanities and social sciences, and has run NEH-funded workshops on the 1918 Spanish Influenza and on Images and Texts in Medical history.


Katrin Schultheiss is an associate professor and chair of the Department of History at The George Washington Universality. A medical and modern European historian, she is the author of Bodies and Souls: Politics and the Professionalization of Nursing in France, 1880-1922 (Harvard University Press) and is currently writing cultural and intellectual study of the 19th century French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot.

NHC Webinar on Protest and Civil Unrest in the United States: A Historical Exploration

The events of the past several weeks have brought political protest, police brutality, and civil unrest back into the headlines. Activists, politicians, and political pundits daily offer observations and analysis on cable and broadcast news, Facebook and Twitter, and newspaper op-ed pages.

As the American Historical Association has repeatedly stated and as all historians know, “Everything has a history.”  In this inaugural webinar, the National History Center brings together five historians of 20th Century America to address the historical background surrounding the current crisis in the United States. 

On June 11, 2020, the National History Center hosted its inaugural web session on “Protest and Civil Unrest: A Historical Exploration.”  That session featured

Chad Williams (Brandeis University)
Marcia Chatelain (Georgetown University)
Michael Flamm (Ohio Wesleyan)
Cheryl Greenberg (Trinity College)
Thomas Sugrue (New York University) 
Eric Arnesen (George Washington University)

You can watch the 90 minute panel with this link. 

Response to COVID-19

In accordance with federal recommendations, the NHC is suspending the WHS lecture series for the foreseeable future. Currently, all events until May 26, 2020 have been postponed. We hope to reschedule all postponed sessions to Fall 2020. Our congressional briefing series will also be postponed.

If you have any questions about upcoming talks or rescheduled events, please contact Rachel Wheatley at We appreciate your understanding and patience during this time.

Announcing the New Director of the NHC:

Eric Arnesen

Eric Arnesen is the Teamsters Professor of History in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences at The George Washington University.   A graduate of Wesleyan University  and the recipient of a Ph.D. in History from Yale University, he is a specialist in the history of race, labor, politics, and civil rights.  Among his books are Brotherhoods of Color: Black Railroad Workers and the Struggle for Equality (2001), which received the 2001 Wesley-Logan Prize in Diaspora History from the AHA and the ASAALH,and Waterfront Workers of New Orleans: Race, Class, and Politics, 1863-1923 (1991), which won the AHA’s John H. Dunning Prize.  He is also the author of Black Protest and the Great Migration: A Brief History with Documents, editor of the 3-volume Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working Class History (2006), The Black Worker: Race, Labor, and Civil Rights since Emancipation (2007), andThe Human Tradition in American Labor History (2002), and co-editor of Labor Histories: Class, Politics, and the Working-Class Experience (1998).  His scholarly articles have appeared in the American Historical Review, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, American Communist History, Labor History, Labor’s Heritage, and the International Review of Social History; he was a regular contributor to the Chicago Tribune and his reviews and review essays have appeared in the New Republic, the Nation, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and Dissent.  A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Harvard’s Charles Warren Center, he held the Distinguished Fulbright Chair at Uppsala University in Sweden.   He has served as co-chair of the Washington History Seminar at the Wilson Center since 2013 and is completing a biography of A. Philip Randolph.    

Policy and History in York, PA: College Students Brief Local Leaders

Drawing upon the model of the Congressional Briefing series and some of the examples from the History and Policy Education Program, Corey M. Brooks, Associate Professor of History at York College of Pennsylvania, developed a new course,  “Policy and History in York” for the Spring 2019 semester. His full reflections can be found here.

On a May night in downtown York, Pennsylvania, two blocks from city hall, I sat quietly as seven of my York College undergraduates expounded to politicians and community leaders on the histories of poverty in our community and of policy responses that had in years past attempted (and often failed) to meaningfully alleviate this deep-rooted problem.   Speaking for 90 minutes on subtopics they had selected themselves and researched over the course of a semester, these students together unfolded several key facets of the history of poverty policy in York.   The audience responded with rapt attention, as student research informed and energized attendees, including the city’s mayor, the city council president, the local constituent services director for the area’s U. S. Representative, and the CEO of York County’s official Community Action Agency.   After concluding their prepared remarks, students handled difficult, thought-provoking audience questions with comfort and skill.  Each student stood a little taller later that night as they mingled with local policymakers and college faculty.  In the process, they celebrated their hard work—work that might tangibly contribute to a community in which they now felt increasingly invested.

Welcome to York sign (Public domain)

The group had traveled quite a distance from our first class meeting in January.  At the outset, the students had little idea where they would direct their energies and widely varying experiences with history research, policy analysis, and local community engagement.  Guiding these students from that starting point to the final briefing event was perhaps the most demanding and most fulfilling teaching experience of my nine years at York College of Pennsylvania.  In this new “Policy and History in York” course, modeled on the National History Center’s congressional briefings, I challenged students to conduct the research necessary to become experts on the local history of policies that concern our community.  They then would have to work as a team to build and present a shared briefing for local decision makers.

I conceived of this course for two main reasons. The first was in response to the all too ubiquitous questioning, including (especially) in higher education itself, of the relevance of historical research.  Here was a course in which students would show peers, faculty, and the broader community how historical research could be brought to bear to contextualize current challenges.

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