UCL Institute of the Americas


Thomas Cryer

'Walking the Tightrope': John Hope Franklin and the Dilemmas of African American History in Action


Dr Nick Witham (first supervisor) and Dr Daniel Matlin (King's College London)

My London Arts and Humanities Partnership funded research investigates memory, race, and nationhood in late twentieth-century America through the lens of the life, scholarship, and activism of the historian John Hope Franklin (1915-2009). Following a recent wave of scholars investigating the role of history in African American public life, my intellectual biography provides the first extensive study of Franklin, one of the most significant historians of the twentieth-century.

In examining Franklin’s (approximately) 14 books, 10 edited volumes, 29 contributed chapters, and 91 published articles I hope to address four key issues. First, the diffusion, reception, and legacy of Franklin’s work, within both the post-war segregated historical profession and the later Black Studies tradition. Second, Franklin’s political activism, particularly how he sought to balance his role as an “indigenous interpreter” of the Black experience for white liberals with his unwavering celebration of historical objectivity and detachment. Third, Franklin’s transatlantic role as he rode the waves of Cold War cultural diplomacy whilst seeking to remain, as both a historian and an African American, a self-governing “conscience of the nation.” Fourth, his philosophy of history, which prioritised exhaustively attesting to the complexities and varieties of human experience with the goal of highlighting the potentials of those actively hindered by racial dehumanisation.

My wider research intersects with the history of American foreign policy, including my undergraduate thesis “Wayne Morse, The Imperial Presidency, and the Vietnam War” (supervised at Cambridge by Professor Andrew Preston), and the role of commemoration within American nationalism, including my Master’s thesis “Gerald Ford, The 1976 U.S. Revolutionary Bicentennial, and Civil Religion in an ‘Age of Fracture’” (supervised, again at Cambridge, by Professor Gary Gerstle).

Awards | Grants | Scholarships | Funding

  • London Arts and Humanities Partnership


Conference papers and presentations

  • “Reclaiming Revolution: Memory Diplomacy, the 1976 American Revolutionary Bicentennial, and Foreign Policy during America’s Post-Vietnam ‘Age of Atonement’”, BAAS 2022, Hull, UK, April 20th-23rd, 2022.
  • “A ‘Politics of Oblivion?’ Remembering (and Forgetting) The Vietnam War during 1976’s American Revolutionary Bicentennial” Rethinking War Conference, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, March 18th-19th 2022.
  • “’The Crossroads of Survival or Destruction’: Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon and the Rhetoric of the Nuclear Apocalypse in Senatorial Dissent on Foreign Policy,’ HOTCUS Winter Symposium, Liverpool John Moore University, March 12th, 2022.
  • “‘The Conscience of the Nation’: John Hope Franklin, Race, Memory, and the Role of the Historian in a Post-Crisis World,’ Emerging Scholar Series, University of Jamestown, North Dakota, February 23rd, 2022.
  • “‘The Crossroads of Survival or Destruction’: Senator Wayne Morse, The 'Imperial Presidency' and the Anti-Vietnam Movement in Congress,” Graduate History Guild, University of Oregon, Oregon, February 22nd, 2022.
  • ‘A Brief Introduction to John Hope Franklin’, History Labs Three Minute Pitches, Institute for Historical Research UK, December 9th, 2021.
  • ‘The Ford Administration, the 1976 Bicentennial, and Civil Religion in an ‘Age of Fracture’, ANZASA Annual Conference 2021, Macquarie University, Australia, November 24th, 2021.
  • Roundtable Participant ‘The United States: Headed for Renewal or Bound for Division?’ Ditchley Greentree Conference, Oxfordshire, UK, September 9th-10th, 2021.