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The Complicated History of US Isolationism

In an event released on February 11, Kluge Center Director John Haskell interviewed Charles Kupchan on his new book: Isolationism: A History of America’s Effort to Shield Itself from the World.

Kupchan, Professor of International Affairs in the School of Foreign Service and Government Department at Georgetown University and Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that he began considering isolationism in the 1990s, at a time when the US was committed to deep involvement in foreign affairs. Kupchan wondered if the American people would want to “put on the brakes” after interventions in the Balkans and other parts of the world during that time. Instead, the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the ensuing war on terrorism resulted in a renewed focus on the world outside of US borders.

Still, Kupchan said, this only proved to be a “temporary resurgence of internationalism, because those wars [didn’t] go so well, and we begin to see by the second term of George W. Bush a sense that we may have bitten off more than we can chew.”

Kupchan said he found reading about the prevalence of isolationism in the US before World War II to be an “eye-opener,” particularly in comparison to the late 20th century where “the United States was, essentially, running the world.” Then, the Trump administration’s turn towards isolationism, Kupchan said, confirmed to him that the idea had renewed relevance.

Haskell and Kupchan went on to outline the history of the idea of isolationism in American politics, from a long initial period where isolationism was the guiding principle through a rapidly-changing relationship to the concept in the 20th century. They then discussed the shifts brought on by the post-Cold War world that have altered the US role in the world, as well as predictions for the Biden presidency.

The full event is available to watch here.

The Kluge Center: A Place for Conversations on the Future of Democracy

No one needs reminding that democracy in the US, Europe, and elsewhere is under stress. Led by Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden, the Kluge Center has hosted some of the greatest thinkers from the academy and leading practitioners in the political and policymaking world for conversations on the future of democracy. In fact, the […]

The Mexican Revolution and its Lasting Legacy on American Art and Culture

This is a guest post by Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado. He is Professor of Spanish, Latin American Studies, and Film and Media Studies and Jarvis Thurston and Mona Van Duyn Professor in the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis. He plans to be in residence at the Kluge Center during the summer of 2021 […]

Kluge Fellow David Stenner Answers Four Questions About His Scholarship and Experience as a Scholar at the Kluge Center

David Stenner is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Christopher Newport University. Originally from Germany, David has lived in the United States for over a decade. He is the author of “Globalizing Morocco: Transnational Activism and the Post-Colonial State” (Stanford University Press, 2019.) I interviewed Dr. Stenner on his research project as […]

Why We Write: Public Scholarship in Times of Crisis

This is a guest post by Janna Deitz, Kluge Center Program Specialist in Outreach and Partnerships. Scholars in residence at the John W. Kluge Center represent the very best in academic researchers and are further distinguished by their commitment to engage with the public and policymaking community. These scholars bring the Center’s motto of “connecting thought […]

Kluge Chair Ken Pomeranz Wins 2021 Toynbee Prize

The John W. Kluge Center extends its congratulations to Kenneth Pomeranz for winning the 2021 Toynbee Prize. The Toynbee Prize is awarded biennially by the Toynbee Prize Foundation “for work that makes a significant contribution to the study of global history.” Pomeranz joins a distinguished recent Toynbee Prize recipients that include Lauren Benton, Dipesh Chakrabarty, […]

Data and Surveillance in China and the United States

Aynne Kokas is a Kluge Fellow, a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, and an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. Dr. Kokas testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in March 2018, and was scheduled to testify before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on Chinese censorship of American […]

What Americans Don’t Get About Our Relationship with China and the European Union

In February, Carla Freeman, the Library of Congress Chair in US-China Relations as well as Director of the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins University, participated in a conference in Madrid, Spain, looking at the relationship and power dynamics between China, the United States, and the European Union. This conference took place before COVID-19 was […]

Ivan Krastev Wins Two Prestigious Prizes

The John W. Kluge Center congratulates recent Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations Ivan Krastev on winning the prestigious 30th Annual Lionel Gelber Prize for his book The Light That Failed: Why the West Is Losing the Fight for Democracy, co-authored with Stephen Holmes. The Gelber Prize is awarded for the year’s best […]