Christopher McKnight Nichols
Wayne Woodrow Hayes Chair in National Security Studies and Professor of History
371 Dulles Hall
230 Annie & John Glenn Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
Spring 2023 Office Hours: After class on Thursdays, usually 5pm-6pm, and by appointment on Wednesdays (2pm-3pm) and Friday afternoons (please email Prof. Nichols directly to set up a meeting, in person and remote options available).
Areas of Expertise
- Intellectual history of the U.S.'s role in and with the world
- Isolationism, internationalism, globalization
- U.S. and the World, nineteenth century to the present
- Intersection of U.S. domestic and foreign policy
- Grand Strategy, Ideology, Anti-imperialism
- Gilded Age and Progressive Era
- 1918-19 Influenza Pandemic
- U.S. political history, party politics, elections
- Modern U.S. history, modern international history
- Religion and foreign relations
- University of Virginia (PhD May 2008)
- Wesleyan University
- Harvard College
Christopher McKnight Nichols is Professor of History and Wayne Woodrow Hayes Chair in National Security Studies, Mershon Center for International Security Studies, at The Ohio State University.
Nichols specializes in the history of the United States and its relationship to the rest of the world, particularly in the areas of isolationism, internationalism, and globalization, as well as the role of ideas and ideologies in U.S. foreign relations. He is also an expert on modern U.S. intellectual, political, and cultural history, from the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (1880-1920) through the present.
Nichols is author or editor of six books.
*Winner of the 2023 International Studies Association Joseph Fletcher Prize for Best Edited Book in Historical International Relations
Nichols' latest book, co-edited with David Milne, is Ideology in U.S. Foreign Relations: New Histories (Columbia UP, August/Fall 2022)
Published in 2021, Nichols co-conceived, co-edited, and co-authored, with Elizabeth Borgwardt and Andrew Preston, Rethinking American Grand Strategy (Oxford UP, 2021)
Nichols' most well-known book is Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age (Harvard UP, 2011, revised paperback 2015).
Nichols was co-editor with Nancy Unger of the Wiley Blackwell Companion to the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (2017, new edition in paperback 2022)
Nichols was Senior Editor, with David Milne, and Editor-in-Chief Timothy Lynch, of the massive two-volume Oxford Encyclopedia of American Military and Diplomatic History (2013)
Nichols' first book was co-edited with Charles Mathewes, and entitled Prophesies of Godlessness: Predictions of America’s Imminent Secularization from the Puritans to the Present Day (Oxford UP, 2008).
Nichols is at work on a range of new projects. He is working on a study of the concept and practice of normalization in U.S. international relations from the Cold War to the present. Nichols is completing a book on the transformation of U.S. foreign relations in the early Cold War with a focus on the election of 1952 (in the Oxford University Press Pivotal Moments series), several research and writing efforts related to the history of ideas in U.S. foreign relations, several biographical studies, and a sweeping exploration of global anti-imperialism. Nichols has authored dozens of articles and essays published in both peer-reviewed journals and popular venues.
At the Ohio State University, Nichols is a Professor of History in the Department of History and serves as a core faculty member and endowed chair professor at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies. Nichols is also an affiliated faculty member at the Center for Ethics and Human Values (CEHV) and the Center for the Study of Religion (CSR).
Public Activities (recent, selected)
Nichols is a passionate advocate for the humanities and history. Nichols has done several hundred invited talks and conference presentations and has organized two major international history conferences and a range of smaller history and interdisciplinary conferences and seminars. He is a founding editorial board member of the “Made by History” section of the Washington Post.
Nichols is a frequent commentator on air, online, and in print on the historical dimensions of contemporary U.S. foreign policy and politics, most notably on C-SPAN and as a regular on NPR, OPB’s Think Out Loud with Dave Miller, and on the pages of the Washington Post. He has done on-stage and televised interviews with Ta-Nehisi Coates, Kamau Bell, Madeleine Albright, Erik Larson, Annette Gordon-Reed, Heather Cox Richardson, Jon Meacham, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Fredrik Logevall, Nicholas Kristof, and Michael Beschloss, among others. He also has introduced and moderated hundreds of events in person, hybrid, and remote (panels, talks, discussions, community conversations, and more). Nichols is open to media and event inquiries (see personal professional website for examples and additional information).
In 2020 Nichols began hosting a web series called “Historians and the News,” (#HATN) a popular remote public history conversation series on the historical underpinnings of some of the most pressing contemporary issues, orchestrated and offered by the Oregon Historical Society, now entering a fifth season in 2024-2025.
From 2020-23 Nichols has done over 200 media interviews, talks, and events, reaching millions worldwide, drawing on insights from the 1918 influenza pandemic for confronting the COVID pandemic. He conceived, organized, co-edited, and co-wrote two major academic roundtable articles drawing on the history and insights of the 1918-19 flu in light of COVID and living in a new pandemic era. See Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Core (JGAPE 2020, 2022) *free access: "The 1918–19 Flu Pandemic in the Age of COVID."
At the Ohio State University Nichols teaches the History 3500/History 3501 series of U.S. foreign relations history from the founding to the present, advanced undergraduates seminars at the History 4525 level (such as a popular class that focuses on Religion and U.S. Foreign Relations, AU2023), and graduate colloquia and seminars on U.S. diplomatic and international history, politics and foreign policy, grand strategy, conflict, and diplomacy (History 7500, History 8500). He will likely also be teaching some political and intellectual history, with a focus on national security broadly understood, and aims to develop classes that draw from his past popular courses and newer classes, including American Grand Strategy, and eventually the history of baseball.
For 2024-25 Nichols is open to working with new PhD students, particularly those with a focus on the U.S.’s relations with the world, foreign policy, the history of ideas, and the intersection of domestic and international politics, including public history, modern U.S. political and intellectual history, with a wide range of thematic interests and approaches, primarily from the era of U.S. Civil War through the present.
Given the dire state of the U.S. and world academic job market(s) in history and the humanities, Nichols encourages potential graduate students to take some time to consider whether the pursuit of a doctorate in history is truly best for them. In that light, Nichols is a dedicated advisor and is keenly interested in an honest, open approach to the pros and cons of graduate school and advanced work in history; he takes an expansive approach to graduate training that seeks to open new avenues toward--and advance opportunities for--non-traditional academic employment as well as a path to successful high-level and high-impact historical research.
Those who are interested in applying to work with Prof. Nichols, should reach out directly by email to discuss research possibilities. The Ohio State University's program in diplomatic history, including connections to military and international history, is a signature area of study at OSU; the program has an exceptional faculty and a long history of top placements and excellent dissertations. As such, the program receives many applicants and admits very few incoming students. Please know that because of the volume of his correspondence and inquiries Nichols may not be able to respond as rapidly or in as much detail as he would otherwise prefer. In addition, in general Nichols aims to talk in more depth about interests, aims, courses of study, and much more AFTER students are admitted to the program and are in the process of making decisions about graduate program options.
Professional Activities (recent, selected)
Nichols is a co-founding editor of a new international history book series at the University of North Carolina Press (likely to be announced in 2024).
An active member of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR), the Society for U.S. Intellectual History (S-USIH), the Organization of American Historians (OAH), and the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (SHGAPE), Nichols has served on numerous committees and a range of roles for all four societies, including recently Nichols served on the program committee for the U.S. Intellectual History Annual Conference (Boston, MA, November 2022). Nichols was elected to the SHAFR Council in 2023. Nichols also serves as an elected Council Member of the SHGAPE (through January 2026). Nichols is part of the organizing committee bringing the 2026 annual conference of SHAFR to Columbus, OH and The Ohio State University in June 2026.
Nichols was proud to have helped to secure and then establish Oregon State University’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter in 2015-2016 and was the three-time elected faculty president of the campus Phi Beta Kappa chapter, serving through 2020.
Nichols served as Online Editor of the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (2014-2020) and has been on the boards of a number of journals and publications. He is an active and dedicated reviewer and evaluator of scholarship and applications for grants, projects, fellowships, publications, promotion, and more, including work with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the State Department Office of the Historian, think tanks, centers, institutes, and universities worldwide.
Nichols is a permanent member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Nichols cycled off as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Oregon Historical Society in 2022 after six years as an elected BoT member.
Honors (recent, selected)
- In 2014 Nichols was the Oregon State University Honors College Professor of the Year.
- In 2015 Nichols received the Roger D. Bridges Award for Distinguished Service to the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.
- In 2016 Nichols was awarded one of 33 worldwide Andrew Carnegie Fellowships.
- In 2017 Nichols became an Organization of American Historians (OAH) Distinguished Lecturer. (Reappointed in 2022)
- In 2018 he gave a TED Talk to a sold-out audience at the Keller Auditorium (3k+), in Portland, Oregon, at TEDxPortland (the largest indoor TEDx event in the world), his TED Talk is entitled “The Untold Story of American Isolationism” | a.k.a. “Why History Matters Today”.
- In 2020 Nichols was honored with the Pete Mark Award for outstanding Board Member contributions to the Oregon Historical Society.
- In 2021 Oregon State University named Nichols the Sandy and Elva Sanders Eminent Professor in the Honors College.
- In 2022 The Ohio State University appointed Nichols the Wayne Woodrow Hayes Chair in National Security Studies.
- In 2023 Nichols gave his Hayes Chair Inaugural Lecture.
- In 2023 Nichols' co-edited book, with David Milne, Ideology in U.S. Foreign Relations: New Histories, received the International Studies Association's 2023 Joseph Fletcher Prize for Best Edited Book in Historical International Relations.
Previously Nichols was Director of the Center for the Humanities (2017-2022), Sandy and Elva Sanders Eminent Professor in the Honors College, and Associate Professor of History, at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, where he taught and worked from 2012 to 2022. Before coming to Oregon State Nichols was Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. He studied at Harvard College, Wesleyan University, and the University of Virginia (where he received his PhD in May 2008).