Welcome! My name is Paul Adler and I am currently a tutor in the History and Literature field at Harvard University. Born in Washington, D.C. and raised in Chapel Hill, N.C., I went to Brandeis University where I received my BA in 2004. Following college I moved back to Washington, D.C., where I worked for several years at the D.C.-based NGO, Global Trade Watch.
My time in the NGO world helped shape the questions that I brought to graduate school: How did our current global political economy take shape? How do activist organizations navigate complex relationships with a multitude of actors from foundations to other activist groups to business to varying levels of governments? What are the historical roots of U.S. advocates engaging in transnational and global work? And how have the dynamics of such relationships shifted with economic, political, and technological changes?
These inquiries led me to Georgetown University, where I received a PhD in history in December 2014. At Georgetown I came to identify myself as a "U.S. and the World" historian, focusing on how individuals and particularly social movement groups have both influenced and been influenced by activists and events in other nations. While I have a broad chronological interest, my primary area of focus is 1945 to the present. My dissertation, Planetary Citizens: U.S. NGOs and the Politics of International Development in the Late Twentieth Century, explores advocacy efforts by U.S. public interest advocacy groups on issues of international development in the 1970s and 1980s. I focus on two important campaigns from this era: the boycott of Nestlé by a global coalition of NGOs and efforts spearheaded by major U.S. environmental groups (such as the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund) to pressure the World Bank into taking ecological concerns into account in its lending.
Currently, I am preparing my manuscript, under contract with the University of Pennsylvania Press. The book presents a much expanded version of my argument, focusing on the debates over free trade agreements and institutions like the World Trade Organization. In the book, I argue that the early 1990s saw a dramatic shift in the politics surrounding global economics in the U.S. The fight over the North American Free Trade Agreement crystallized for millions of Americans their relationship to the global economy. NAFTA and the creation of the WTO illustrated activists' arguments that the world economy, far from being governed only by the logic of the marketplace was in fact shaped by state and corporate actors. The book shows how NGOs tried, with some notable successes, to challenge these actors and in doing so affected the evolution of international political economy to this day.
At Georgetown I taught both a seminar and lecture course on U.S. history that emphasized transnational dimensions. At the History and Literature concentration I lead seminars, as well as advising senior theses, covering a range of topics, from mid-twentieth century Black internationalism to how films about the Iraq War create a historical "memory" of the conflict.