The History Awards Luncheon and Reception will take place on April 16th at the Big Tree Inn from 11:45 AM - 4:00 PM. In addition to honoring excellent History students, the program will include a talk given by Professor Robb Westbrook (University of Rochester) on American isolationism and the induction ceremony of Phi Alpha Theta.
About the Speaker
Robert Westbrook is a Professor of History at the University of Rochester, where he teaches modern American history and American and European cultural and intellectual history. He received his B.A. (summa cum laude with exceptional distinction in history) from Yale University in 1972, and his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1981. After teaching for several years at Yale, he took a position with the University of Rochester’s History Department in 1986, attaining the rank of Full Professor in 1995. His research focuses on the relationships among democratic ideals, liberal theory, and practical politics. As an intellectual historian, he has explored these relationships by focusing on philosophical pragmatism. As a cultural historian of liberal democracy, he has focused on popular political theory and the social history of the American moral imagination. His books include John Dewey and American Democracy (Cornell University Press, 1991), which won the Organization of American Historians’ Merle Curti Award for the best book in American intellectual history (1991-92) and has been translated into Chinese and Italian; Why We Fought: Forging American Obligations in World War II (Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004), which historian T. J. Jackson Lears described as “a brilliant, sustained reflection on the conflict between liberal society and state power in the age of total war”; Democratic Hope: Pragmatism and the Politics of Truth (Cornell University Press, 2005); and In the Face of Facts: Moral Inquiry in American Scholarship, ed. with Richard Fox (Woodrow Wilson Center/Cambridge University Press, 1997). His academic articles and reviews have appeared in American Historical Review, Journal of American History, Modern Intellectual History, American Quarterly, Radical History Review, Ethics and International Affairs, Science, Amerikastudien, Praxis International, International Labor and Working-Class History, The Historian, Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, and South Atlantic Quarterly. And as an avid practitioner of history as a form of social and cultural criticism, he has published extensively in numerous journals of opinion, including Raritan, Christian Century, The Nation, The New Republic, Tikkun, Dissent, Commonweal, In These Times, Perspectives on Politics, and Linguafranca.
Professor Westbrook will present research currently underway for his second book on World War II. The talk, entitled “Isolationism Reconsidered,” will offer a reassessment of interwar isolationism from an anti-imperialist perspective. Given the threat that Hitler, as the personification of modern evil, posed to the world, it is unsurprising that professional historians and most of the general public have clung tightly to the notion that American intervention in World War II was indisputably necessary on grounds of both security and morality. Anti-interventionists, according to this narrative, are at best contemptibly naïve and at worst outright anti-Semitic or lunatic. A closer examination of their views, Westbrook suggests, yields a more complex story. What can we learn from a more nuanced understanding of WWII-era isolationism? Is it possible to offer a compelling critique of American intervention in World War II without seeming either morally obtuse or strategically naïve? These questions, Westbrook argues, are vitally important to our assessment of more recent anti-interventionist arguments focusing on Iraq and elsewhere, for World War II is commonly viewed as the turning point beyond which isolationism became untenable. Put another way, the redemption of World War II isolationism bears a direct relationship to the credibility of contemporary anti-interventionist critiques of American foreign policy.