[WHS] Rethinking American Grand Strategy

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Please join us for the William Roger Louis Session of the Washington History Seminar for a panel with Christopher McKnight Nichols and Andrew Preston on Rethinking American Grand Strategy. 

Monday, September 13 at 4:00 pm ET

Click here to register for the webinar

Space in the Zoom webinar is available on a first-come first-served 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 website. 

This seminar will be recorded and the video will be posted on the National History Center's YouTube Channel.


What is grand strategy? What does it aim to achieve? And what differentiates it from normal strategic thought-what, in other words, makes it "grand"? In answering these questions, most scholars have focused on diplomacy and warfare, so much so that "grand strategy" has become almost an equivalent of "military history." The traditional attention paid to military affairs is understandable, but in today's world it leaves out much else that could be considered political, and therefore strategic. It is in fact possible to consider, and even reach, a more capacious understanding of grand strategy, one that still includes the battlefield and the negotiating table while expanding beyond them.

Rethinking American Grand Strategy assembles a roster of leading historians to examine America's place in the world. In their presentation Nichols and Preston will argue that just as contemporary world politics is driven by a wide range of non-military issues, the most thorough considerations of grand strategy must consider the bases of peace and security-including gender, race, the environment, and a wide range of cultural, social, political, and economic issues.


Andrew Preston, Cambridge University

Christopher McKnight Nichols, Oregon State University

Daniel Bessner, University of Washington

Julia Irwin, University of South Florida


Andrew Preston is Professor of American History and a Fellow of Clare College at Cambridge University, and the 2021 President of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR). He is the author or editor of nine books, and is currently writing a book on the idea of national security in American history as well as editing Volume 2 of The Cambridge History of the Vietnam War.

Christopher McKnight Nichols is Director of the Center for the Humanities and the Sandy and Elva Sanders Eminent Professor in the Honors College at Oregon State University, where is an associate professor of history. An Andrew Carnegie Fellow, Nichols is best known for authoring Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age (Harvard, 2011, 2015), and he is editor or author of five other books, including the recently published Rethinking American Grand Strategy (Oxford, 2021).

Daniel Bessner is the Joff Hanauer Honors Associate Professor of Western Civilization in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. He is the author of Democracy in Exile: Hans Speier and the Rise of the Defense Intellectual (Cornell, 2018) and is co-editor, with Nicolas Guilhot, of The Decision Imagination: Sovereignty, Social Science, and Democracy in the Twentieth Century (Berghahn, 2019). He is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine, and a co-host of the podcast American Prestige.

Julia Irwin is an Associate Professor and Associate Chair of History at the University of South Florida. She earned her Ph.D. in History, with a concentration in the History of Medicine and Science, from Yale University. Her research focuses on the place of humanitarian assistance in 20th century U.S. foreign relations and international history. Her first book, Making the World Safe: The American Red Cross and a Nation’s Humanitarian Awakening (Oxford University Press, 2013) is a history of U.S. international relief efforts during the First World War era. She is now completing a second book, Catastrophic Diplomacy: U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance in the American Century. Professor Irwin is also the author of many articles and book chapters, including most recently “Our Climatic Moment: Hazarding a History of the United States and the World” (Diplomatic History, 2021), “The ‘Development’ of Humanitarian Relief: U.S. Disaster Assistance Operations in the Caribbean Basin, 1917-1931,” (in The Development Century: A Global History, Cambridge University Press, 2018), and “Disastrous Grand Strategy: U.S. Humanitarian Assistance and Global Natural Catastrophe” (Rethinking American Grand Strategy, Oxford University Press, 2021).


The seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University and the National History Center) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is organized jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Woodrow Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks its anonymous individual donors and institutional partners (the George Washington University History Department and the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest) for their continued support.

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