Miller Center

Vanessa Walker

History, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Ambivalent Allies: Advocates, Diplomats, and the Struggle for an 'American' Human Rights Policy

Walker photo

Vanessa Walker is the Joseph W. And Diane Zerbib Assistant Professor of History at Amherst College.

Walker's primary areas of interest are the history of U.S. foreign relations and the history and politics of human rights. With both of these topics, she likes to focus on the interchange between international and domestic spheres and actors. She approaches foreign relations in broad terms to engage ideology, race, gender, culture, and (of course) policy, as important forces in shaping the United States’ global interactions through out its history.  Moreover, she likes to explore how foreign entities—both governmental and non-governmental—have shaped the country domestically, influencing American ideals, identities, society, and government institutions. Her current book project, for example, brings together high-level diplomatic and political history with that of activist networks and social movements to argue for the centrality of Latin America in the development of U.S. human rights policies and debates in the Ford and Carter presidencies. At its core, the project is a study of how foreign policy is made in a democracy, situating diplomacy in a larger social and political domestic context, and it traces the deep and inextricable connections between international structures and policies, and domestic dissent and reform in the 1970s. Although her primary focus is on the United States, Walker has also done research in Latin America and the Middle East, and enjoys offering comparative and transnational courses rooted in broader global contexts, such as seminars on Cuba and the United States and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.

Walker's dissertation examined the interactions between advocacy groups and foreign diplomats in the 1970s and early 1980s, revealing the way human rights policy was conceptualized, implemented, and evaluated. Highlighting the role that Chilean and Argentine advocates played in catalyzing the emerging human rights movement in Washington, D.C., her dissertation sought to place this advocacy-diplomacy relationship in its proper international context. More broadly, Walker considered how the Ford, Carter, and Reagan administrations approached human rights as a component of the U.S. relations with Latin America. Her dissertation placed particular emphasis on the Carter administration's relations with Chile and Argentina, and reevaluated its successes and failures in the context of a larger human rights moment, and its objectives to redirect U.S. foreign policy away from Cold War containment and intervention.

Fellowship year: 2010

Mentor: Jeremi Suri

Selected Recent Publications

At the End of Influence: Rethinking Human Rights and Intervention in U.S.-Latin American Relations.Journal of Contemporary History, 46, No. 1 (January 2011): 109-135.

Critically Relevant and Genuinely Critical.” In "Fifty Years of William Appleman Williams’ Tragedy of American Diplomacy: An Anniversary, a Discussion, and a Celebration,” Passport, 40, No. 2 (September 2009): 35-6.

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