They are Watching: Understanding Conspiracy Theories in Modern American History

Friday, March 31, 2023, 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Type: Panel Discussion

Tags: Politics; Popular Culture; Social and Cultural


Conspiracy theories are everywhere. No one with a cell phone escapes the vortex of skepticism, cynicism, paranoia, and fear that competes for our thoughts almost constantly. In their earlier incarnations, conspiracy theories were easier to dismiss or simply ignore. We cannot do that today. Historians have an obligation to address this contemporary discourse. The impact of conspiracy theories on our politics, society and culture deserves thoughtful and reasonable discussion. We have the tools and the need to demonstrate their value not only to our students, but also the public as a whole.

Session Participants

Chair: Kathryn Olmsted, University of California, Davis
Kathryn Olmsted is a professor of history at the University of California, Davis. She specializes in the political and cultural history of twentieth and twenty-first century America, with a particular interest in the influence of anticommunism and conspiracy theories on national politics. She is the author of five books: The Newspaper Axis: Six Press Barons Who Enabled Hitler (Yale, 2022); Right Out of California: The 1930s and the Big Business Roots of Modern Conservatism (New Press, 2015); Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11 (Oxford, 2009); Red Spy Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth Bentley (North Carolina, 2002); and Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI (North Carolina, 1996).

Panelist: Vaneesa Marie Cook, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Vaneesa Cook holds a PhD in US history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (May 2015). Her work has appeared in journals and magazines such as Religion & American Culture, The Oxford University Press Encyclopedia, Aeon, Raritan, Sojourners, The Washington Post, The LA Review of Books, and Dissent. Her book, Spiritual Socialists, was published in Fall 2019. Vaneesa currently works as a historian for the Missing in Action Project at UW-Madison.

Panelist: Sean M. Dinces, Long Beach City College
Sean Dinces is Associate Professor of History at Long Beach City College (CA) and author of Bulls Markets: Chicago's Basketball Business and the New Inequality.

Panelist: Michael David Gambone, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Michael D. Gambone is the author of eight books, the most recent being Modern Conspiracies in America: Separating Fact from Fiction (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, May 2022) and The New Praetorians: Modern American Veterans, Society, and Service in the Forever War (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2021). He is currently a professor of History at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.

Panelist: Nina Gonzalez, University of California, Davis
Nina Gonzalez is a History PhD student at UC Davis whose research focuses on far-right conspiracy theories. Her recent project details the complex history of the “race suicide” theory in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, which claimed the white race was being eliminated through racial mixing and needed to actively promote white women having white babies. Gonzalez is also interested in Latinx history, transatlantic history, and applications of historical theory