Historicizing ‘America First’ and US Isolationism

Christopher McKnight Nichols
Oregon State University

Isolationism is much in the news in recent days. President Trump’s acquiescence to Turkish demands regarding a modern buffer area, including a new offensive, followed rapidly by an announcement that all, or nearly all, US troops will be withdrawn from Syria has drawn sharp rebukes, including from prominent Republican members of Congress. Disastrous consequences for Kurdish people, and former US allies, on the ground in Syria has added fuel to this fire. Most notably Senator Lindsey Graham suggested that Trump “must” rethink the US position, and argued that isolationism has not “worked” in particular historical moments, such as before the Second World War. Others have responded that these latest policy changes do not, in fact, amount to isolationist or even retrenchment politics, given the scale and scope of US military commitments worldwide. While yet others have cited history, noting, sadly, that major powers have a tendency to sell out allies when it is convenient or the going gets tough, which itself does not necessarily amount to any particular type of strategy or policy position.

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The Myth of American Isolationism – A Centre Talk by Prof. Kristin Hoganson – This Wed.

The Heartland Myth Revisited

American Isolationism as Seen through the Most Local of Places

The Centre for Imperial & Global History is delighted to announce

a talk by

Professor Kristin Hoganson
Harmsworth Visiting Professor of American History
Oxford University


When: Wed. Jan. 13, 4-5:30 pm

Where: Amory 239AB, University of Exeter

Abstract: This talk reconsiders the myth of American isolationism by tackling some of the place-based assumptions upon which it rests.  In opposition to those who have pinned the isolationist label to the rural Midwest, Hoganson explores hidden histories of connection that stitched this seemingly most local of places to the wider world in the seemingly most local of times — the long nineteenth century.  Though attention to such topics as indigenous diasporas, bioprospecting, animal breeding, consular representation, meterological congresses, scientific agriculture, Malthusian discourse, and international students, this paper brings multiple forms of alliance politics to light.  In so doing, it makes a case for a different kind of local history and a different sense of region, attuned not only to affiliative impulses but also to the exclusionary politics of empire.

Kristin Hoganson is Professor of History and Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the 2015-16 Harmsworth Visiting Professor of American History at Oxford University. Her research interests lie in placing the United States in world context, cultures of U.S. imperialism, and women’s and gender history. She is the author of Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars (Yale UP, 1998) and Consumers’ Imperium: The Global Production of American Domesticity, 1865-1920 (UNC Press, 2007). Her current research focuses on the local history of the U.S. heartland: Once Upon a Place: The U.S. Heartland Between Security and Empire (Penguin Press, forthcoming).