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.
This course uses historical methods to investigate the long arc of U.S. empire from the 19th century through the present. Our core work will be reading, discussing, and writing about past events, beginning with theoretical essays that establish the significance of the "imperial" as a category of analysis that helps us understand how power works. We will consider the United States in relationship to other world empires, and will explore why people have long resisted thinking of the United States as an empire. For many observers, 1898 and the Spanish American War were an exceptional moment of imperial expansion. We won't treat 1898 as an exception, but rather as a midpoint in a longer history of U.S. empire beginning with Native American dispossession and slavery. We will consider continuities and discontinuities between those experiences and more recent military, economic, and cultural imperialism including the wars on terror and drugs.
In this course we follow the "biographies" of several major illicit drugs in order to uncover global histories of capitalism and foreign policy in the modern world. Our readings will take us around the world, but we will ultimately be rooted in the United States. We begin with histories of opium in the 19th century, when revenues from its sale were critical to imperial expansion in Asia. We then consider the global movement to regulate and prohibit drugs in the 20th century, building on case studies of opium in the Philippines, marijuana in Mexico, and cocaine in Peru. We will consider the domestic and foreign contexts and consequences of drug prohibition, which has been built on notions of racial hierarchy and social deviance. Assignments include books by historians, anthropologists, international relations scholars, as well as film, journalism, and fiction. Students will conduct independent historical research.