Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Damms, Richard V.

Committee Member

Marcus, Alan I.

Committee Member

Lavine, Matthew B.

Committee Member

Brain, Stephen C.

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of History


In response to the emerging Cold War conflict, American policymakers adopted cultural diplomacy as a permanent component of US foreign policy for the first time. In an attempt to win the hearts and minds of the worlds’ people, American leaders utilized international cultural outreach, through methods such as exchanges of students, teachers, and scientists, traveling exhibitions, radio and television broadcasts, publications, and tourism, among others. In recent decades, many historians have begun to explore the significance of these efforts. However, none of these works have examined the experience of those individuals who actually participated in the exchanges. This work begins to fill that void by focusing on American academics who travelled to the Soviet Union on educational exchange during the Cold War. By exploring their personal reports and recollections of their time behind the Iron Curtain, this study illuminates how they perceived their own nation, its values, and their own sense of national identity and purpose. Ultimately, I argue that these Americans used the image of the inferior Soviet “other” to cement a more unified national identity and affirm their feelings of American exceptionalism. Still, though their belief in American superiority remained constant throughout, their commitment to actively serve as America’s cultural representatives abroad waxed and waned at different points in the Cold War. Namely, although at the start of the program in 1958 exchangees enthusiastically assisted in spreading American values abroad, when American public opinion shifted against the Vietnam War their efforts immediately ceased. This shows specific examples of how conceptions of American ideology changed in this period. For a time, these Americans, and probably many others, abandoned a tenet that had long been central to American identity- the belief that the United States had the duty to assert its ideology globally. It was not until the last years of the Cold War, when American and Soviet leaders made significant improvements in superpower relations, that these individuals felt confident enough to serve again as cultural ambassadors. These fluctuations provide a case study of the direct and personal effects of major political and foreign policy shifts on ordinary Americans.