Turning Point 1916? US Foreign Relations before and after the “Kept Us out of War” Election

AHA Session 123
Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 2
Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations 2
Friday, January 8, 2016: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Regency Ballroom V (Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Lower Level 1)
Christopher McKnight Nichols, Oregon State University
Julia Irwin, University of South Florida
Rebecca Tinio McKenna, University of Notre Dame
Nancy Mitchell, North Carolina State University
Benjamin Carlos Montoya, University of Colorado Boulder
Nicole M. Phelps, University of Vermont

Session Abstract

The spark for this roundtable proposal is the centennial of the 1916 election in which Woodrow Wilson ran on a "kept us out of war" platform, despite his military interventions in Mexico and the Caribbean.  Marking the centennial of this election, this roundtable will address whether 1916 should be seen as the end of an era in U.S. relations with the wider world.  Panelists will consider how recent transnational, international, imperial, and world history scholarship has affected our assessments of U.S. foreign relations in the years leading up to and following 1916.  Although a fundamental issue to be addressed by this panel is periodization, the presenters will also share their insights on recent trends and future opportunities in U.S. foreign relations scholarship pertaining to the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.  Their comments will touch on a variety of themes, including humanitarian relief, human mobility, great power politics, military interventions, inter-imperial rivalries, colonial policies, anticolonial struggles for sovereignty, and the animating debates and central concerns related to the term “isolationism.” In addition to offering a variety of thematic expertises, panelists will also contribute a range of geographic perspectives, stretching from the United States to Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean, and East Asia.  

            More specifically, Professor Nicole Phelps will discuss the legal, normative, and administrative structures the US government developed and participated in to fulfill its basic sovereign obligations to protect the lives and property of US citizens abroad and foreign citizens and subjects in the United States.  Professor Julia Irwin will discuss U.S. war and disaster relief initiatives in the early 20th century.  Among other things, she will analyze how the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Armed Forces intervened in European, Asian, and South American nations (and political affairs) through humanitarian assistance.  Dr. Benjamin Montoya will address President Wilson’s military intervention in Mexico and U.S./Mexican relations in light of the prospect of a full-out war between the two countries.  Professor Nancy Mitchell will consider U.S./German rivalries in the Caribbean and the (limited) impact of World War I on American empire there.   Professor Rebecca Tinio McKenna will focus on the politics of Philippine independence as negotiated over the 1916 Jones Law, also known as the Philippine Autonomy Act. More broadly, her remarks will consider the intersections between imperialism and capitalism and the relationship between political and economic sovereignty on the brink of the United States’ entry in World War I. Professor Christopher Nichols, an expert on isolationist and internationalist thinking from the late nineteenth century through the 1930s, will serve as the chair. 

            The audience for this roundtable will be broad because it speaks to the conference theme of "Global migrations:  empires, nations, and neighbors"; because presenters will step outside of their own work to provide perspectives on a field as a whole; because of the centenary of the 1916 election; and because of its mixed cast of senior and junior scholars.  It will particularly appeal to historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era and historians of U.S. foreign relations.

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