Assistant Professor of US Foreign Policy & Empire Studies
April’s research and teaching focus on the 20th century United States in an international context, with particular interests in the Caribbean and Latin America. She is interested in cultural politics, the cultures of capitalism, race, and empire; critical food studies; environmental studies and transnational environmental justice movements; immigration and ethnicity; consumer cultures; rural history; and transnational and cultural research methods.
Her book, Sugar and Civilization: American Empire and the Cultural Politics of Sweetness, was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2015. The book tells the story of sugar from the Spanish American War through the New Deal of the 1930s, describing how workers and consumers in multiple locations came to eat huge quantities of sugar. The cultural logic connecting imperial, trade, and immigration policies was the same one that facilitated new habits of sugar consumption within the United States and its territories. Sugr and Civilization won the 2016 Myrna Bernath book prize from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.
Her current research is on the environmental history of the war on drugs in the United States, Latin America, and Asia from the 1920s through the 1980s. Exploring the agrarian origins of drug prohibition reveals new ways to think about the social and economic consequences of more than a century of public policy.
Since 1990 overdose deaths in the United States have increased five-fold, resulting in what is best described as an overdose crisis. Many of the states with the highest prescription opioid overdose deaths-and the greatest harms from crystal meth-also vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. In this course we will consider the historical contexts for the parallel rise of Trumpism and the overdose crisis. Trump appealed to economically and socially dislocated voters' xenophobia, using stereotypes about Mexican drug dealers to call for a return to law and order policing and immigration exclusion. The course moves beyond Trump's rhetoric to explore history and political economy. Topics include: economic decline, demographic transformation, and the crisis of whiteness in the rural heartland; drug production and prohibition in U.S.-Mexico relations; pharmaceutical and insurance company power; histories of pain management, addiction, harm reduction, and movements to end the war on drugs.
This course considers how nature and environment have been transformed through imperialism and globalization. We examine the history of plantation agriculture, commodity exchange, and raw material resource extraction as they have reshaped the geographies of North and South America and the Caribbean. We will pay particular attention to the history of climate, hurricanes and disaster response given the recent hurricane-related crisis in Puerto Rico, and consider the ways that imperialism has produced both climate change and vulnerability to it. Topics will also include international collaboration and treaty-making for environmental protection, the environmental politics of the Cold War, and transnational environmental movements. The reading assignments are drawn primarily from the fields of environmental and foreign policy history. But we will also read works from ethnic studies and by political scientists, international relations scholars, geographers, activists, and novelists in order to develop a critical approach to environment, race, and power in a globalizing world.
Have you ever wondered why Spam is so popular in Hawaii and why ramen noodles are a cheap, ubiquitous food? Are you curious about why cilantro, mangos, papayas, and coconuts are common in both Southeast Asian and Caribbean cuisines? Ever wonder why black-eyed peas and collards are considered "soul food"? It turns out that the answers to these questions have a lot to do with histories of global trade, colonialism, slavery, and international labor migration. This tutorial course will consider the production and consumption of food as a locus of power and a site where racial meaning has been made over the last 300 years. Beginning with the rise of the Atlantic slave trade and continuing through the 20th century, we trace the global movement of workers, foods, flavors, businesses, and agricultural knowledge. Readings are interdisciplinary, but our emphasis will be on historical analyses of race, labor, immigration, and gender.