Miller Center

Michael Morgan

History, New York University

The Origins of the Helsinki Final Act, 1954–1975

Morgan photo

Michael Morgan is Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Morgan’s research focuses on the international history of the twentieth century, especially the Cold War. His current project examines the origins of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, a 35-country agreement that was a turning point in East-West relations and a landmark in the history of human rights.  He teaches courses on the history of international relations since the seventeenth century and the history of human rights.

Morgan's dissertation argued that the signing of the Helsinki Final Act in August 1975 was a turning point in the history of the Cold War. The brief ceremony in the Finnish capital was the culmination of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), one of the largest and most ambitious diplomatic undertakings in European history. Over the course of nearly three years, 35 countries jointly hammered out an agreement that covered almost every aspect of international affairs, including sovereignty and borders, economic and commercial relations, and human rights. By injecting human rights into geopolitics for the first time, by calling the centuries-old principle of absolute sovereignty into question, and by raising the possibility of reunifying a divided Europe, the Final Act had profound consequences for the future of the Cold War. It crystallized the difference between the political systems of Eastern and Western Europe, secured communist recognition of basic human rights standards, and, most importantly, bolstered dissident movements across Eastern Europe. Since the end of the Cold War, the Final Act's contribution to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe has been widely acknowledged, and Morgan's dissertation, based on newly-declassified material from North American and European archives, was the first comprehensive account of how and why it came into being.

Fellowship year: 2008

Mentor: Tony Judt, New York University

Selected Recent Publications

The Ambiguities of Humanitarian Intervention.” in Hal Brands and Jeremi Suri, eds., The Power of the Past: History and Statecraft (Brookings Institution Press, 2015)

The Seventies and the Rebirth of Human Rights.” in Niall Ferguson, Charles Maier, Erez Manela, and Daniel Sargent, eds., The Shock of the Global: The International History of the 1970s (Harvard University Press, 2010).
The United States and the Making of the Helsinki Final Act.” in Fredrik Logevall and Andrew Preston, eds., Nixon in the World: American Foreign Relations 1969–1977  (Oxford University Press, 2008).

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