UCL Institute of the Americas


Dr Nick Witham

Dr Nick Witham


Associate Professor of United States History

head of department


Nick joined the UCL Institute of the Americas in 2015. After serving in various departmental leadership roles including Director of Research in the build-up to REF 2021, he took over as Head of Department in 2022.

Before arriving at UCL, Nick worked from 2012 to 2015 as Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer in American History at Canterbury Christ Church University. He completed his PhD in American Studies at the University of Nottingham in 2012, and his BA in History and Politics at the University of Warwick in 2007, during which time he was a Cornell London Club Scholar at Cornell University.

From 2019 until 2022, Nick was Co-Editor of the Journal of American Studies. His leadership in learning and teaching has been recognized by a Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and has served on the steering committee of HOTCUS (Historians of the Twentieth Century United States), and the executive committee of BAAS (British Association for American Studies). With colleagues at King’s College London and the British Library, he co-organized EBAAS 2018, the largest American Studies conference ever to take place in Europe.

Research interests

Nick’s research on the post-1945 United States is situated at the intersections of political, cultural, and intellectual history. His central preoccupation is how intellectual communities use their knowledge and expertise to intervene in American political and cultural life. This interest has led him in a variety of different directions, encompassing the histories of protest, imperialism and anti-imperialism, historiography, and memory.

Nick’s most recent book is Popularizing the Past: Historians, Publishers, and Readers in Postwar America (University of Chicago Press, 2023). It tells the stories of five historians who spent the fifty years after World War II writing books that changed the way ordinary Americans thought about their nation’s history. In doing so, it demonstrates the unrecognized importance of postwar popular historical writing, not only to the American historical profession, but also to the political debates that continue to rage around the meaning of the nation’s past.

Nick’s new research project is a group biography of prominent American public intellectuals and anti-war activists Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Marilyn Young, and Howard Zinn tentatively titled “The Affinity Group: A Story of Ideas and Dissent in Wartime”. In 1971, the four were part of a left-wing “affinity group” that opposed the Vietnam War. Extending both backward and forward in time from this period, the project will use the group’s life stories and friendships to chart the global significance of foreign policy dissent from World War II to the War on Terror. This was a period of transformation in American military power, which the group played an important role in making intelligible to publics around the world. The project will foreground the global historical dynamic between power and protest and contribute to the literatures on US foreign relations and the US left. It will also develop historiographical understanding of group biography as both a research methodology and a narrative strategy.

Nick’s first book, The Cultural Left and the Reagan Era: U.S. Protest and Central American Revolution (I.B. Tauris, 2015), won the British Association for American Studies Arthur Miller Prize. He is also the co-editor of Reframing 1968: American Politics, Protest and Identity (Edinburgh University Press, 2018).  

Nick’s research has been funded by the British Academy, the Fulbright Commission, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the British Association for American Studies, and the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh.

Teaching Summary


AMER0068: The United States and the Cold War

Post Graduate Taught:

AMER0092: The United States at War: Decolonial Perspectives, 1898-present

Research Supervision:

Nick would like to hear from prospective students looking to pursue graduate study in twentieth-century U.S. political, cultural, and intellectual history, the history of protest and radicalism, and historiography and memory studies.

Current PhD Students:

Tom Cryer, “Walking the Tightrope: John Hope Franklin and the Dilemmas of African American History in Action” (first supervisor).

Will Ranger, “Society, Patriotism and American Civil Religion: A Contribution to the History of Mentalities” (first supervisor).

Chris Sarjeant, “The Forgotten Culture War: The Roots, Structures and Implications of Intellectual Divergence on the American Left During the Long 1990s” (first supervisor).

Sailin Li, “Arms Sale to China: How Did the US and UK Engage China Against the Soviet Union (1972-1989)” (second supervisor).

Michael Byrne, “‘Succeeding Greatness’: a comparative study of the challenges faced by four U.S. presidents who succeeded ‘transformational presidents’ of their own party, having first served as their vice president” (second supervisor).

Completed PhD students:

Emily Hull, “Irving Kristol: Cold War Liberal and Conservative” (first supervisor).

Elliot Askew, “Requiem for Reality: An Intellectual History of the Response to Neoliberalism in 1980s and 1990s America” (first supervisor).

Stephen Colbook, “Patchwork Pandemic: American Governance, State Politics, and the Fractured US Response to HIV/AIDS” (second supervisor).

Elizabeth Evens, “Regulating Women: Professional Women and the Surveillance of Female Reproduction and Sexuality in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries” (second supervisor).

Research Publications 

See Dr Nick Witham's publications on UCL Profiles.

Selected media appearances

More staff media appearances here.