David Ekbladh

David Ekbladh

Associate Professor
East Hall, Room 110
6 The Green, Medford, MA


My interests are wide and varied but I gravitate toward broad global themes and how they straddle the domestic and international. I see the history of the United States not as separate or exceptional but something firmly connected to the stream of world events. Nevertheless, culture, politics, and society within the United States interact with and refract the global. This is reflected in my research. My first book, The Great American Mission: Modernization and the Construction of an American World Order, (Princeton University Press, 2010) looks at the place of development ideas in American foreign relations during the twentieth century. Modernization was defined in the Depression as liberals sought proof that they could master the forces of modernity. Compelling models emerging from the New Deal were trussed for worldwide use. These approaches, newly labeled "modernization," became a consensus view internationally. At home modernization became an American mission, an imperative appealing to constituencies across society. Strategically, it found a central role U.S.-led "nation building" programs in critical parts of the "Third World." In the 1960s and 1970s, modernization was brought to crisis by its intimate connection to the war in Vietnam, growing criticism of the Western modernity that was assumed to be its goal, and an environmental critique that highlighted ecological and human costs. This discredited modernization in many quarters. Nevertheless, modernization's influence continues to echo in institutions and approaches that remain in the skeletal structure of the international community today.

My current book project, Look at the World: The Rise of an American Globalism in the 1930s reflects a growing interest in the interwar crisis. It focuses on a period where political upheaval facilitated the rise of "totalitarian" states. These were believed to have changed the nature of international life. Americans came to the conclusion that to remain secure at home they had to actively promote policies they believed would assure global stability. This demanded the assumption of vast—and potentially limitless—commitments that defined a new type of American globalism.

However, much of the thinking legitimating this view emerged from a transnational discourse contending with a collapsing world order. Because of dramatic changes in mass media and advocacy, these broader views quickly diffused down from international activists and institutions to very local and immediate segments of American society. They led a profound revision of American perceptions, politics, and institutions that remain foundations for our present day understanding of the U.S. role in the world.

Professional experiences have given me insight into the array of actors and ideas that move world affairs. For several years I worked with the Carnegie Corporation of New York, a philanthropic foundation, on international affairs and conflict prevention issues. I spent some time with an UN-affiliated educational program in New York and Costa Rica. Other opportunities led me to Japan where I contributed to educational programs of the Tokyo Foundation.


  • PhD Columbia University, 2003
  • MA Columbia University, 1997
  • BA American University, 1994


U.S. in the World, International History, Modern U.S. History

Selected Honors and Awards

Winner, 2011 Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Stuart L. Bernath Book Prize
Winner, Phi Alpha Theta 2010 Best First Book Award
Research Fellow, International Security Program, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 2009-2010
Smith Richardson Foundation Book Grant, 2008-2010
Visiting Scholar, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007-2008
John M. Olin Postdoctoral Fellowship, Yale University, 2006-2007

Selected Publications and Presentations

  • The Great American Mission: Modernization and the Construction of an American World Order, 1914 to the Present (Princeton University Press, 2010).
  • "Meeting the Challenge from Totalitarianism: The Tennessee Valley Authority as a Global Model for Liberal Development, 1933-1945" International History Review 32 (March 2010): 47-67.
  • "To Reconstruct the Medieval: Rural Reconstruction in Interwar China and the Rise of an American Style of Modernization, 1914-1961" The Journal of American-East Asian Relations 9 (Summer 2006): 169-196.
  • "How to Build a Nation: A Simple 52 Year Program" Wilson Quarterly, 28 (Winter 2004): 12-20.
  • "Mr. TVA: 'Grass Roots' Development, David Lilienthal, and the Rise and Fall of the Tennessee Valley Authority as a Symbol for U.S. Overseas Development, 1933-1973" Diplomatic History 26 (Summer 2002): 335-374.

Teaching/Courses Taught

History 28: U.S. Foreign Relations, 1600-1900
History 29: U.S. Foreign Relations, 1900-Present
History 93: The New Deal's Global History
History 170: Development as History