Christopher McKnight Nichols is an associate professor of history at Oregon State University, where he also directs the Center for the Humanities and leads the Citizenship and Crisis Initiative. He specializes in the history of the United States and its relationship to the rest of the world, with a focus on isolationism, internationalism, and globalization. In addition, he is an expert on modern U.S. intellectual and political history, with an emphasis on the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (1880–1920) through the present. Nichols is the author of Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age (2011, 2015); he coedited and coauthored Prophesies of Godlessness: Predictions of America's Imminent Secularization from the Puritans to the Present Day (2008); and he was the senior editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of American Military and Diplomatic History (2013). He also coedited the Companion to the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (2017). His forthcoming co-edited book is entitled "Rethinking American Grand Strategy," and he is finishing an edited volume on the role of ideology in U.S. foreign relations, a book U.S. politics and foreign policy during the early Cold War and a sweeping study of American isolationism and internationalism. In 2016 Nichols was named one of 33 Andrew Carnegie Fellows worldwide; he has also been elected a permanent member of the Council on Foreign Relations. A passionate teacher, he has received four teaching awards, including Oregon State University's Honors College Professor of the Year in 2014. Nichols is a frequent commentator on the historical dimensions of U.S. foreign policy and politics, including as a regular panelist on CNN, National Public Radio, and Oregon Public Broadcasting.
In championing “America First” isolationism and protectionism, the current U.S administration has shifted the political mood toward selective U.S. engagement, where foreign commitments are limited to areas of vital U.S. interest and economic nationalism and unilateralism are the order of the day. Yet the resurgence of the phrase -- and even these ideas and policies -- has been disconnected from historical context. What is that history? What are the key ideas of "America First" and to the longer tradition of isolationism? And why is it significant? Nichols explains the origins, development, and central tenets of American isolationism. The talk focuses on the rise of "America First" in the early 1940s and WWII and will illuminate how this history has implications that shape present policies and debates.