David C. Atkinson

Associate Professor of History, Purdue University

David C. Atkinson, Ph.D.

Originally from Leeds in the UK, I received my Ph.D. in history from Boston University in 2010. I am a historian of American foreign relations,  and I am currently working on a new book project that explores how Americans interacted with imports from around the world in the long 19th century, tentatively entitled "The World in the US: Imports and the Development of the Modern United States."

This new book project analyzes the influence of commercial, mineral, and agricultural imports on American society, politics, and culture during the 19th century. In recent years, historians of American foreign relations have devoted a great deal of attention to the increasing volume and influence of American exports abroad by the turn of the twentieth century. Yet the emergence of the United States as an export nation belies the fact that imports from the rest of the world dominated the American commercial, economic, political, social, and cultural landscape for most of the 19th century. That singular fact conditioned significant debates over tariff policy, economic development, popular and mass culture, race and civilization, immigration, regulation, diplomacy, and war. With this book, I will highlight the essential influence of imports on the development of the modern American economy, state, and society more broadly. 

My most recent book is entitled The Burden of White Supremacy: Containing Asian Labor Migration in the British Empire and the United States. From 1896 to 1924, motivated by fears of an irresistible wave of Asian migration and the possibility that whites might be ousted from their position of global domination, British colonists and white Americans instituted stringent legislative controls on Chinese, Japanese, and South Asian immigration. Historians of these efforts typically stress similarity and collaboration between these movements, but I instead highlight the differences in these campaigns and argue that the main factor unifying these otherwise distinctive drives was the constant tensions they caused. Drawing on documentary evidence from the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand, I trace how these exclusionary regimes drew inspiration from similar racial, economic, and strategic anxieties, but nevertheless developed idiosyncratically in the first decades of the twentieth century. Arguing that the so-called white man’s burden was often white supremacy itself, I demonstrate how the tenets of absolute exclusion--meant to foster white racial, political, and economic supremacy--only inflamed dangerous tensions that threatened to undermine the British Empire, American foreign relations, and the new framework of international cooperation that followed the First World War.
 I am also the author of a book entitled In Theory and in Practice: Harvard's Center for International Affairs, 1958-1983. In addition to these book projects, I have also published articles on Asian migration in the Pacific Northwest, on the international resonances of American immigration restriction in the 1920s, and on the imperial and international implications of Australian immigration policy.

At Purdue I teach courses on American foreign relations and the history of Rock and Roll, and I am an avid supporter of Leeds United football club!


David C. Atkinson, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of History, Purdue University

[email protected]

(765) 496-2776

Department of History

Purdue University

University Hall
672 Oval Drive
West Lafayette, IN 47906


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