The Last Best Hope?: Understanding America from the Outside In-logo

The Last Best Hope?: Understanding America from the Outside In

History Podcasts

From Oxford University's Rothermere American Institute, host Professor Adam Smith talks to guests doing world-leading research that sheds light on the United States from the outside in. We ask what forces have shaped the culture and politics of the US, how its role in the world has changed and what it might be in the future. Is America now, or has it ever been, the "last best hope of earth"? Probably not, but plenty of people have thought so. We try to understand why.

From Oxford University's Rothermere American Institute, host Professor Adam Smith talks to guests doing world-leading research that sheds light on the United States from the outside in. We ask what forces have shaped the culture and politics of the US, how its role in the world has changed and what it might be in the future. Is America now, or has it ever been, the "last best hope of earth"? Probably not, but plenty of people have thought so. We try to understand why.

Location:

United Kingdom

Description:

From Oxford University's Rothermere American Institute, host Professor Adam Smith talks to guests doing world-leading research that sheds light on the United States from the outside in. We ask what forces have shaped the culture and politics of the US, how its role in the world has changed and what it might be in the future. Is America now, or has it ever been, the "last best hope of earth"? Probably not, but plenty of people have thought so. We try to understand why.

Twitter:

@TLBHpodcast

Language:

English


Episodes

The Dust Bowl Episode

5/17/2022
The Dust Bowl: the ecological disaster within the larger disaster of the Great Depression. It’s a story that generations of Americans have come to know through John Steinbeck's classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath and Dorothea Lange's unforgettable photos of migrant families struggling on the road to make a living in Depression-torn California. In this episode, Adam talks to two prize-winning historians, Linda Gordon, author of a biography of Dorothea Lange, and Sarah Phillips, an expert on...

Duration:00:30:38

The Battle Hymn of the Republic Episode

2/15/2022
The Battle Hymn of the Republic is one of the most recognisable songs in the world. Easy to sing, and to march to, its words are stirring and optimistic, and filled with vivid images: trumpets that never call retreat, watch-fires of a hundred circling camps, trampling of the grapes of wrath, loosing of the fateful lightning of the terrible swift sword, burnished rows of steel, lilies in whose beauty Christ was born across the sea. It contains the frisson of redemptive violence, too: as he...

Duration:00:33:04

The Nixon's the One Episode

2/9/2022
Was Richard Nixon responsible for the rightward turn of the Republican Party, or was he in fact the “the last liberal Republican”? John R. Price, who worked on social policy in Nixon’s White House, has written a book making the case that Nixon has been misunderstood, pointing to plans to reform welfare to introduce something like a universal basic income and expand health insurance. Rick Perlstein, author of four prize-winning books on the rise of the Right is unconvinced. So, was Nixon the...

Duration:00:35:05

The Billy Graham Episode

2/2/2022
Billy Graham, with his film star good looks and his baritone voice, seemed to be everywhere in postwar America – the confidante of presidents, and the closest the nation came to having a national pastor. At a time when we often think of religion as in decline in the West, Billy Graham embodied a self-confident, even glamorous Christian faith. He sold Jesus as other people sold vacuum cleaners. And for him, a Christian faith fed the wells of his boundless patriotism and anti-communism. So who...

Duration:00:28:49

The 1776 Episode

1/26/2022
How did the Declaration of Independence come to be the signature document of the American nation? What was its role in forging Americans’ conception of themselves as somehow exceptional – the last best hope of earth? Adam talks to Professor Patrick Griffin to find out how a manifesto signed by rebellious colonists --most of them doing so several weeks after July 4 -- somehow became a pseudo-sacred text.

Duration:00:38:50

The State's Rights Episode

12/3/2021
Since the founding of the United States, Americans have been arguing about the correct balance of power between the federal government and the governments of the individual states. Many today still invoke the idea of 'states' rights' as they claim that state governments should retain exclusive power over numerous aspects of public policy, from gun control, to same-sex marriage, to healthcare. The call for 'states' rights' has also infiltrated the bitter debate over abortion and reproductive...

Duration:00:34:30

The Government is the Solution Episode

11/26/2021
From the 1980s until quite recently, the mood music of American politics was to “roll back” the public programmes created during Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Now, taxes and spending are rising and the New Deal – maybe in the guise of the “Green New Deal” – is cool again. Maybe government is seen, once again, as the solution to our problems rather than the problem itself. And yet polls show that faith in government remains low while vicious polarisation stymies any 1930s-style attempt to...

Duration:00:31:19

The Robert E. Lee Episode

11/18/2021
The American Civil War did not end ambiguously – it ended in complete military defeat for the South. And yet for a century and a half, it is the losers – the men who took up arms against the United States to defend the cause of human enslavement – were honoured as American heroes. None more so than Robert E. Lee. Now the immense statue of Lee that stood on Monument Avenue in Richmond has been removed. Why now? And why was it there so long? Adam talks to Ty Seidule, Emeritus Professor of...

Duration:00:40:03

The 9/11 Episode

11/12/2021
The shocking attacks of September 11, 2001, were one of those "wake up" moments for the US, raising troubling questions about the nation's place in the world, how it could defend itself and what kind of a country it wanted to be. Looking back with Adam at how 9/11 changed America are Prof Nazita Lajevardi (Michigan State and Oxford), an expert in the experiences of the Muslim American community, and Prof Peter Feaver (Duke), who worked on the national security council staff in the Bush White...

Duration:00:36:22

The Homecoming Episode

11/4/2021
At the close of the First World War, the U.S. Government gave the American people a choice unlike that of any other nation: to leave their dead loved ones where they fell, or repatriate them to the US for burial at home. Of the 116 000 dead, over 45 000 families made the choice to bring their dead home. In this episode, RAI Fellow Dr. Alice Kelly speaks to Dr. Lisa Budreau, Kevin Fitzpatrick and Professor Steven Trout about how and why the Americans did this. What impact did this homecoming...

Duration:00:35:33

The Irish America Episode

10/29/2021
Why does Joe Biden often refer to his mother's Irish ancestry but not his father's English roots? Why does being "Irish" in America have such cachet? In this episode, Adam talks to Professors Kevin Kenny of New York University and David Gleeson from Northumbria University to explore the complex history of Irishness in American culture. From the "wild Irish" of the southern backcountry, through to the political fixers of Tammany Hall and the challenges that John F. Kennedy's (Irish)...

Duration:00:41:06

The "Crisis" of the Middle Class Episode

6/11/2021
Has the "American Dream" died? If the "dream" is one of a confident expectation of increasing affluence across generations, then perhaps it has. While politicians in both parties talk about a crisis of the "middle class", young people in America now find it harder to get on the property ladder, to go to College, and even to make ends meet week by week, without falling into a debt trap. Adam talks to Devin Fergus, author of "Land of the Fee," and Jacob Hacker, co-author of Winner-Take-All...

Duration:00:28:53

The American Dilemma Episode

5/28/2021
What are we to make of the most famous of American Paradoxes: that Thomas Jefferson, who claimed as a "self-evident truth" the principle that "all men are created equal" was a slaveholder? In this episode, Adam discusses this problem with Pullitzer prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed. With the US undergoing one of the most profound racial reckonings for decades, how should the morally ambiguous legacy of the Founders be understood?

Duration:00:31:28

The What's Wrong With America Episode

5/21/2021
Has America lost its allure to the rest of the world? Has it lost its confidence, its optimism, its sense of openness? In this episode, Adam talks to Nick Bryant, the BBC correspondent in New York and author of When America Stopped Being Great about the changing image of the US between the 1980s and the present. The two discuss whether America still has the capacity to solve its own problems – or to believe that it can. And Adam asks if the BLM protests have created a new progressive image...

Duration:00:36:41

The Royal America Episode

5/14/2021
The soap opera of Meghan and Harry, the deploying of Prince Philip in America's culture wars: why does the British royal family exerted so strong an appeal in republican America ? This is not a new phenomenon. Queen Victoria's son, later Edward VII, toured America on the eve of the Civil War and was greeted with adulation. What's going on? Adam talks to Arianne Chernock and Frank Prochaska to find out.

Duration:00:34:30

The Boycott Episode

5/7/2021
In 1980, Jimmy Carter's administration leaned on the US Olympic Committee to boycott the Moscow Games. Today, there are calls for the US to once again boycott the Olympics -- this time in Beijing. What are the lessons of the 1980 boycott? Can sport ever be an effective instrument of foreign policy? And does the US any longer have the credibility as the "leader of the free world" to take a stance on human rights. Adam talks to Joe Onek, Deputy Counsel to President Carter who managed the White...

Duration:00:24:21

The Swedish Nightingale Episode

4/30/2021
Jenny Lind, the "Swedish Nightingale": a soprano who made strong men weep with the beauty of her voice. In this episode, Adam explores the Nightingale's sensational tour of the US in 1850-52. She was described as the "most famous woman in the world" by her promoter, the never-knowingly-unselling impresario P T Barnum. Her reputation for virtue did much to make theatre and performance respectable, but as Lind travelled across America, the country was riven by slavery. How would she navigate...

Duration:00:31:47

The From Slavery to Snowdonia Episode

2/11/2021
Throughout the Victorian period, Black abolitionists toured the British Isles. In an effort to enlist British support for ending slavery in America--and later to enlist support for black rights--African Americans spoke not just in London or Leeds but in small towns and villages from the north of Scotland to the foot of Snowdonia and beyond. In this episode, Adam talks to Hannah-Rose Murray to ask why they came and how they were received. Abraham Lincoln may have thought America was the "last...

Duration:00:34:59

The Confederates who wanted to be Garibaldi Episode

2/4/2021
After their own successful secession from the British Empire in the War of Independence, Americans cheered on other plucky nations attempting to wrest themselves from the yoke of others. Whether in Latin America, Hungary, Poland, Ireland or Italy, Americans mostly thought that national self-determination was a good thing. So naturally, when they created the Confederacy, Southerners--some of them at least--hoped that the rest of the world would think them as heroic as Garibaldi. They were to...

Duration:00:33:05

The Reconstruction Episode

1/27/2021
In this episode Adam talks to Eric Foner, the pre-eminent historian of the Civil War and Reconstruction, about the resonances of the Reconstruction era in the present day. In the aftermath of the Civil War, the US had to deal with a recalcitrant white population in the South who rejected the legitimacy of the Federal government's attempt to give political rights to Black people and who used political violence to achieve their aims. What lessons are there for the present day in an America...

Duration:00:48:57