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Introducing: Mike Schmidli

Mike Schmidli recently joined the Institute for History as a lecturer in American History. He introduces himself.

Mike Schmidli

I grew up on a potato farm in Oregon, and I still have strong ties to the Pacific Northwest of the United States.  I spent my BA years playing guitar and studying American Cold War imperialism at Whittier College, a small liberal arts college with Quaker roots in East Los Angeles. After graduation, I taught history and economics at a bilingual secondary school in Honduras, an eye-opening and challenging experience that left a deep imprint on my intellectual development.

Living in Central America sparked an interest in U.S. relations with Latin America—a theme that carried over into my doctoral research in the History Department at Cornell University. I also developed an interest in human rights, and my research uses the evolving significance of human rights in recent U.S. history as a lens to examine a broad range of topics, including U.S. grand strategy since the Cold War era; state violence and national security, especially counterinsurgency and counterterror policies; neoliberalism and its relationship to democracy promotion; and social movements that have shaped the American engagement with the wider world from the Cold War era to the present. I received my PhD in 2010 and my first book, The Fate of Freedom Elsewhere: Human Rights and U.S. Cold War Policy toward Argentina (Cornell University Press, 2013), examines the American response to the widespread state-sanctioned violence carried out by the Argentine military dictatorship in the 1970s. 

My current book project is an analysis of competing visions of human rights and democracy in the late Cold War era. Drawing on research in the United States, Nicaragua, Germany, and Great Britain, I argue that the Ronald Reagan administration embraced the discourse of democracy promotion—as the centerpiece of the administration’s human rights policy—to advance a project of dual containment: reversing the inroads in the U.S. foreign policymaking process made by liberal internationalists during the 1970s, and rolling-back Soviet gains in the developing world.  By the late 1980s, a distinctive form of U.S. political and economic interventionism—legitimated by a rigorous use of human rights rhetoric, pursued through civil society or “low-intensity” warfare, and rooted in the neoliberal imperatives of U.S.-led globalization—had emerged as a central feature of U.S. foreign policy.

Before coming to Leiden, I was based in the Department of History at Bucknell University, a small liberal arts institution in central Pennsylvania. I’ve also held residency fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies. 

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