Top Young Historians: 109 – Daniel J. Sargent

Top Young Historians

Daniel J. Sargent, 30

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Assistant Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley
Area of Research: Modern American History, American foreign policy
Education: Doctor of Philosophy, History, Harvard University, 2008
Major Publications: Sargent is the author of A Superpower Transformed: Globalization and the Crisis of American Foreign Policy in the 1970s (Oxford University Press: Forthcoming). Daniel J. Sargent JPG Sargent is an editor of Shock of the Global: The 1970s In Perspective, co-edited with Niall Ferguson, Charles Maier, Erez Manela (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010).
Sargent is also the author of scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others:
“The United States and Globalization,” in Shock of the Global: The International History of the 1970s, edited by Ferguson et. al. (Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 2010).
Awards: Sargent is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Weatherhead Center for International Affairs , Dissertation Completion Fellowship, 2006-07;
Olin Institute for Strategic Studies , Pre-Doctoral Fellowship in National Security Studies, 2005-06;
Harvard University, Certificate of Distinction in Teaching (Awarded 3 times, 2003-04, 2004-05).
Additional Info:
Taught at Yale University, New Haven, CT, 2007-2008, Henry Chauncey Jr. ’57 Postdoctoral Fellowship

Personal Anecdote

Earlier this year, I found myself in San Francisco General Hospital after an athletic accident shattered my left acetabulum. An immobile week in hospital gave me plenty of time to mull my first surgical experience and to reflect on the choices that had brought me here: choices that — by the happenstance that looks in retrospect like fate — had carried me to a fast and risky stretch of sidewalk in Berkeley.

If truth be told, my doctors intimidated me. Here they were, a group of experts whose competencies complemented each other perfectly: from the nurses and radiologists to the anesthesiologist and the orthopedic surgeon who specialized in pelvic fractures. As my fears about surgery mellowed in the glow of their expertise, I wondered what I — a putative knowledge professional myself — had accomplished by comparison? Did my credentials — a PhD in international history — accredit me as an expert on a par with these men and women? Did I, by comparison with them, know anything that really mattered?

As I pondered, I came to the conclusion that historians may be somewhat anomalous among the ranks of the gowned and capped. In my own work at least, I am more a generalist than specialist, and I imagine that the same could be said about many of us. By comparison with the surgeon or the scientist, the historian knows a little about a lot of things; knowledge in breadth, not in depth, is our stock in trade. But this, I concluded, can serve a valuable purpose.

What I have tried to do in my own work, I suppose, is to think about how the pieces of the past might constitute larger frameworks of causation and meaning. In my book manuscript, for example, I ask how the acceleration of globalization contributed to both an apparent crisis of American power in the 1970s and to its surprising revival thereafter. This question has drawn me into a variety of specialist topics, ranging from monetary economics to human rights law. I could not claim real expertise in any of them — not by the standards of the economist or the lawyer. What I have tried to do as a historian is to learn enough to be able to relate the particular to the general, to see the fragments as part of a larger whole.

This, I think, may be the real genius of our profession. The past, especially the recent past, is too vast to permit scholars to acquire a scientific understanding of it. What we do instead is to become adept at navigating its patterns, at distilling understanding from complexity. This may make historians somewhat anomalous in a knowledge economy in which specialization remains the order of the day. (For proof of this, spend a week in the hospital.)

Yet it may be that the historian’s willingness to synthesize complexity and to think broadly distinguishes us in useful ways from our colleagues in medicine and the sciences. After all, conversation in the public square is too often denuded of context, complexity, and all sense of possible consequences. The historian’s sensibility may have value even outside of the academy, as a corrective to the pervasive short-termism that marks our times and our politics. I certainly hope so, although I’ll be sticking with the medical specialists for my health care!


By Daniel J. Sargent

“In view of the indifference with which American policy makers engaged globalization in the 1970s, its consequences for the United States in the decades that followed would be serendipitous. As it had in the last third of the nineteenth century, globalization in the late twentieth century fostered a nurturing international environment for the United States. Thanks to expanding global capital markets, the U.S. in the 1980s would be able to draw on the savings of foreigners to sustain its deficits and defense expenditures. The emergence of human rights as an urgent issue reinvigorated America’s ideological mission in the Cold War. And if the West experienced the birth pangs of globalization in the 1970s, the consequences for the Eastern Bloc (excepting China) in the 1980s would be catastrophic. Globalization played to American strengths. With their orientation towards limited government and entrepreneurial capitalism, their belief in the universal applicability of their culture and values, and their stubborn conviction in human freedom as history’s meta-story, Americans were uniquely positioned to become the hub of an interdependent world-civilization. The Soviet Union, by contrast, could hardly have been worse equipped to compete in an integrating world. If the USSR had been a powerful adversary in an age of steel, industrial planning, and workers’ solidarity, it could not easily adapt to a world of microprocessors, information capitalism, and Amnesty International. Indeed, Mikhail Gorbachev’s efforts in the 1980s to drag the Soviet system out of isolation and towards participation in an interdependent world led ultimately to the system’s collapse. The Cold War’s endgame – and the United States’ emergence as the world’s sole superpower – thus need to be understood in terms of the changes that globalization wrought upon the international system in the late twentieth century.” — Daniel J. Sargent in “A Superpower Transformed: Globalization and the Crisis of American Foreign Policy in the 1970s” (Oxford University Press: Forthcoming).About Daniel J. Sargent

  • “An illuminating book that provides a new way to look at the international history of the 1970s. It redirects our Shock of the Global: The 1970s In Perspective JPG attention away from the familiar narrative and instead places the decade in a new perspective that allows us to evaluate longer-term trends, including the evolution of global society, the dynamics of the international economy, the breakup of colonial empires, the impact of popular culture, and the declining realm for autonomous national choices. This superb work will be greeted with enthusiasm.” — Melvyn P. Leffler, author of “For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War”
  • “This volume is remarkable for uniformly strong essays and the cohesiveness of its argument that the 1970s were a distinctive era, and that the key to understanding the decade is the concept of globalization. Thought-provoking and consistently interesting, this book should have a very broad audience among both scholars and general readers alike.” — Thomas Alan Schwartz, author of “Lyndon Johnson and Europe”
  • “A stellar group of authors tackles the transformation of the world in the 1970s, showing how the decade should be seen as ushering in the contemporary global age. Ranging from the end of U.S. economic hegemony to the rise of environmentalism, from the rise of China to the growing influence of Islam, from transnational business transactions to human rights, this book carefully examines the ‘shock’ of globalization and makes a major contribution to international history.” — Akira Iriye, author of China and Japan in the Global Setting
  • “[A] masterful book.” — Michael Casey, Irish Times
  • “A serious and impressive in-depth study of an unjustly neglected decade.” — Bill Perrett, The Age
  • “Sargent is an amazing teacher… very very good class. I’M A TRANSFER STUDENT AND ENJOYED HIS CLASS!”…
    “Professor Sargent is extremely helpful and knowledgeable about U.S. foreign policy…. He is fair and does not force his point of view on the students. He knows the subject very well so you can go to him for any question.”…
    “Intelligent, kind, helpful and very informative. Makes a concerted effort to meet the needs of his students, which makes the class fairly easy. Very accessible and easy to talk to in office hours. He’s definitely an expert in international and global history. I highly recommed him to history majors.”…. — Anonymous Students
  • Posted on Sunday, July 4, 2010 at 11:43 AM

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