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Lessons From The Cold War / Penny M. Von Eschen

Ron and gorby

Labor in the United States is embattled in the 1980's and we can think of Marget Thatcher famously saying 'There's no such thing as society, only individuals'. So you kind of have this Reagan-Thatcher War on Society and on the one hand yes, those calls, that global solidarity, that connected anti-imperialism, anti-colonial movements, anti-apartheid, and labor struggles, I think it's powerful. So in some sense it becomes a target of neoliberal and right projects who deliberately go after it, as Reagan deliberately goes after breaking labor unions...These movements in the global south and the eastern block are successes because they transform societies, on the other hand they are deeply, deeply crippled by IMF policies, world bank policies, the impositions of those policies, by shock therapy...So whether it's anti-apartheid movement in South Africa or certainly Gorbachev in the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc: people do not get what they were asking for.

Penny M. Von Eschen is author of the new book, “Paradoxes of Nostalgia: Cold War Triumphalism and Global Disorder since 1989.” Penny is the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of American Studies and Professor of History at the University of Virginia and author of, “Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War,” and “Race against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937–1957.” We speak with Penny about the enduring legacy of the Cold War in international politics.


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Penny M. Von Eschen

Penny Marie Von Eschen is an American historian and Professor of History and William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of American Studies at the University of Virginia. She is known for her works on American and African-American history, American diplomacy, the history of music, and their connections with decolonization.

Von Eschen graduated from Northwestern University with a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1982. She completed a Ph.D. from the department of history at Columbia University in 1994; her dissertation was African-Americans and colonialism, 1937–1957: The rise and fall of the politics of the African diaspora.

She was an assistant professor of history at the University of Iowa from 1994 to 1996, and at the University of Texas at Austin from 1996 to 1999. Next, she became an associate professor of history and American culture at the University of Michigan, and was promoted to professor there in 2006. In 2015 she moved to Cornell University as the L. Sanford and Jo Mills Reis Professor of Humanities, before moving again to Virginia.

Von Eschen's book on trumpeter Louis Armstrong and the Jazz ambassadors program of the United States Department of State, Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War (2004) was first runner-up for the John Hope Franklin Publication Prize for the Best Book in American Studies in 2005. A feature-length documentary film, The Jazz Ambassadors (2018), was inspired in part by the book, and Von Eschen herself appears as a commentator in the film.

She also wrote Race against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937–1957 (1997). Von Eschen is coeditor of Contested Democracy: Freedom, Race, and Power in American History (2007) and of American Studies: An Anthology (2009).


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