OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Jefferson Cowie

Portrait of Jefferson Cowie

Called "one of our most commanding interpreters of recent American experience" by The Nation, Jefferson Cowie is the James G. Stahlman Professor at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics (2016); Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (2010), winner of several "best book" awards, including the Francis Parkman Prize and the OAH Merle Curti Awards; and Capital Moves: RCA's Seventy Year Quest for Cheap Labor (2001), which won the Phillip Taft Labor History Book Award. Cowie's essays and opinion pieces have appeared in the New York Times, the American Prospect, the New Republic, Dissent, and other popular publications. He has also appeared in a variety of media outlets, including C‐SPAN's "Booknotes" and NPR’s "Weekend Edition," as well as documentaries. He is currently working on a short book on the New Deal and a long book on the global history of the wage.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

This is part of a forthcoming book with Nick Salvatore that argues that the period between 1930s and the 1970s marks a "long exception" in American history. For a few decades, inequality decreased, income for working people increased, and union density was strong. But this was "an interregnum between Gilded Ages" rather than the linear triumph of the welfare state. The talk will examine the issues of class, individualism, race, and immigration--in the context of the Great Depression and after--as key factors that shaped the exceptional era.
Since the late 1970s, inequality in the United States has been one of the most salient, but least discussed, developments in the nation's recent history. This talk accounts for the rise of inequality, its social costs, and political manifestations.
This talk uses Springsteen's music and performance style to discuss some of the thornier issues of American political theory. Touching on thinkers including Tocqueville, Dewey, and Rorty, the talk serves as playful introduction to a serious subject.
This talk uses movies, television shows, rock and country music to trace the decline of class as an issue in American culture in the 1970s. Just as inequality began to matter more, the culture was talking about it less.