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Penny M. Von Eschen

L. Sanford and Jo Mills Reis Professor of Humanities

Penny M. Von Eschen

Mcgraw Hall


My scholarship is engaged with the history of the United States in global and transnational dimensions and has sought to broaden the archive for historians of U.S. foreign relations. It has focused on the projects and subjectivities of critics, activists, and artists as well as including official multi-national state archives (and their internal debates) and the role of literature, popular culture, and mass media representations as a broader public and cultural arena for the making of foreign policy.

My first book, Race against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937-1957, Cornell University Press, 1997, explored the interactions of African American anticolonial intellectuals, journalists, and activists with a broader and dynamic anticolonial world in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. Race Against Empire examined the stakes and far-reaching consequences of these projects' collisions with the U.S. and apartheid governments and European colonialism in the early Cold War.

My second book, Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War, published by Harvard University Press in 2004, explored the unexpected and diverse developments and alliances that emerged from State Department sponsored jazz tours, as the U.S. officials were not always able to control the reception of the tours. The jazz tours often targeted strategically critical regions for the United States in the Cold War, resulting sometimes in locations in close proximity to coups and assassinations including those in Iran, Iraq, and southern Africa. Satchmo foregrounds the subjectivities of the many actors in the tours - musicians, State Department personnel, journalists, and jazz impresarios - while exploring the interplay of culture and geopolitics.

I am currently writing a book called Cold War Nostalgia: The Wages of Memory in the post- 1989 World, under contract with Harvard University Press. Cold War Nostalgia is about the politicized memory of the Cold War, investigating the claims and stories about the Cold War that circulated in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of Eastern bloc states. The study investigates the stakes involved in Cold War memory and nostalgia through readings of multiple media representations of the past within intersecting sites of politics, journalism, and popular culture. In addition to investigating the impact of Cold War nostalgia on U.S. politics and culture, this book follows the political and cultural imprint of western triumphalism across the globe.


The Global Cold War
U.S. in Global and Transnational Dimensions
Race, Gender and Empire
African Americans and the Politics of Culture 
Sex, Spies, and Sci-Fi: Cold War Culture                                                                                                        

First-Year Seminars
What is the Good Life? Utopias in Historical and Global Perspective
American Culture and Globalization
History Through Literature

Literature of History in Global and Transnational Dimensions
Race, Gender and Empire: The Cultures of U.S. Imperialism
The Global Cold War
Global and Transnational History
Transnational African American and African Diasporic Studies


  • History

Graduate Fields

  • Africana Studies


Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War, Harvard University Press, 2004, First Runner-Up for the John Hope Franklin Prize of the American Studies Association, 2005.

Race against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937-1957, Cornell University Press, 1997; winner of the 1998 Stuart L. Bernath book prize of Historians of Foreign Relations; and the Myers Outstanding Book Award, of the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America.

Contested Democracy: Freedom, Race, and Power in American History, Manisha Sinha and Penny Von Eschen co-editors; includes, Penny M. Von Eschen, "Duke Ellington Plays Baghdad: Rethinking Hard and Soft Power from the Outside In," Columbia University Press, 2007.

American Studies: An Anthology, Janice Radway, Kevin Gaines, Barry Shank, and Penny Von Eschen editors, Blackwell Press, January 2009.

Book manuscript in progress: Cold War Nostalgia: The Wages of Memory in the Post-1989 World, Harvard University Press.

Articles and Book Chapters:

"Di Eagle and di Bear: Who Gets to Tell the Story of the Cold War?" Forthcoming in Ronald Radano and Teju Olaniyan, Audible Empire: Music, Global Politics, Critique, Duke University Press, 2015.

"Memory and the study of US Foreign Relations," in Frank Costiogliola and Michael Hogan eds., Explaining US Foreign Relations, forthcoming Cambridge University Press, 2016.

"Locating the Transnational in the Cold War," in Richard Immerman and Petra Goode, eds., The Oxford Handbook on the Cold War, January, 2013, 451-468.

"Race, Civil Rights, and World War II in a Global Frame: Shaping Shifting Race and the U.S. Encounter with European and Japanese Colonialism," in Stephen Tuck and Kevin Kruse Ed. Fog of War: the Second World War and Civil Rights, Oxford University Press, 2012, 171-187.

"Made on Stage: Transnational Performance and the Worlds of Katherine Dunham From London to Dakar," in Desley Deacon and Penny Russell Eds. Biography Across Borders: Transnational Lives, Palgrave Macmillan 2010, 156-167.

PUBLIC HISTORY (presentations, outreach, and interviews listed separately)

Co-curator for "Jam Sessions: American's Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World," photography exhibition on the jazz ambassador tours, with Meridian International Center, Washington D.C. The exhibit opened on April 3, 2008 at the Meridian International Center, and has traveled within the U.S. Internationally, it was presented by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the State Department has was exhibited in 38 host venues in 27 countries in the Western Hemisphere, Africa, Central Asia, East Asia, Europe, and Eurasia. See link for full schedule


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