Washington History Seminar | Catastrophic Diplomacy: US Foreign Disaster Assistance in the American Century

Event Details

End: April 15, 2024

Join Julia Irwin (Louisiana State Univ.), Sarah Snyder (American Univ.), and Megan Black (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for a discussion on Dr. Irwin’s book, Catastrophic Diplomacy. Decades before the Marshall Plan, foreign aid had already become a routine and valuable instrument of U.S. foreign policy. In Catastrophic Diplomacy, Irwin traces the history of U.S. foreign disaster assistance operations across the early- to mid-20th century. Examining U.S. governmental and military responses to scores of catastrophes around the world, she analyzes the messy politics of these humanitarian operations, showing the importance of natural hazards and disaster relief to U.S. foreign relations.

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Julia Irwin (B.A. Oberlin College, Ph.D. Yale University) is a Professor of History at Louisiana State University. She is the author of two books, Making the World Safe: The American Red Cross and a Nation’s Humanitarian Awakening (2013) and Catastrophic Diplomacy: U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance in the American Century (2023). In these and other publications, she examines the role humanitarian assistance played in 20th century U.S. foreign relations and international history.

Megan Black is a historian of U.S. environmental management and foreign relations in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries at MIT. She is the author of The Global Interior: Mineral Frontiers and American Power, which analyzes the role of the U.S. Department of the Interior in pursuing minerals around the world—in Indigenous lands, formal territories, foreign nations, the oceans, and outer space. This work garnered four prizes in different subfields, including the George Perkins Marsh Prize from the American Society of Environmental History, Stuart L. Bernath Prize from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, W. Turrentine-Jackson Prize from the Western History Association, and the British Association of American Studies Prize. Professor Black has published articles and review essays in The Journal of American History, Modern American History, Diplomatic History, and American Quarterly. Her new book project follows a community in Colorado who battled a powerful international corporation intent on blasting through their mountain in search of a mineral of increasing importance to 1970s globalization. Where minerals and mining reach deep into the Earth in particular places, the networks of power driving and opposing extraction extend outward across the surface of the globe. This new work explores how international networks of industrialists and environmentalists fought in local places for the power to shape the more-than-human world.

Sarah B. Snyder is a professor at American University who specializes in the influence of non-state actors such as human rights activists and expatriates on U.S. foreign relations. She is the author of From Selma to Moscow: How Human Rights Activists Transformed U.S. Foreign Policy (Columbia University Press, 2018), which explains how transnational connections and 1960s-era social movements inspired Americans to advocate for a new approach to human rights. The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations awarded it the 2019 Robert H. Ferrell Prize for distinguished scholarship in the history of American foreign relations.