Jefferson Cowie



New Book!



NEW! Available November 2022

A prize-winning historian chronicles a sinister idea of freedom: white Americans’ freedom to oppress.

American freedom is typically associated with the fight of the oppressed for a better world. But for centuries, whenever the federal government has intervened on behalf of nonwhite people, white Americans have fought back by invoking freedom—their freedom to dominate others. 
In Freedom’s Dominion, historian Jefferson Cowie traces this complex saga by focusing on a quintessentially American place: Barbour County, Alabama, the ancestral home of political firebrand George Wallace. In a land shaped by settler colonialism and chattel slavery, white people weaponized freedom to seize Native lands, champion secession, oppose Reconstruction, question the New Deal, and fight desegregation and civil rights laws. 
A riveting history of the long-running clash between white people and federal authority, this book radically shifts our understanding of what freedom means in America.


A bold, politically engaged, reinterpretation of the New Deal and its place in the broad sweep of American history that explains the unique coalition of forces that brought about the greatest period of economic equality in U.S. history. A sober analysis of the complexities of the politics of common purpose and the challenges for the future. 

"One of the year's most important political books."

E.J. Dionne, Jr., Washington Post 

“The Great Exception is a brilliant contribution to the understanding of American politics."

–Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times political columnist

" fresh, fertile and real that the only thing it resembles is itself...You just have to read it. It establishes its author as one of our most commanding interpreters of recent American experience."

-Rick Perlstein, The Nation

Winner of numerous awards including the Francis Parkman Prize for the Best Book in American History.


An epic account of how working-class America hit the rocks in the political and economic upheavals of the 1970s, Stayin’ Alive is a wide-ranging cultural and political history that will forever redefine a misunderstood decade. 

Winner of the Phillip Taft Prize for the Best Book in Labor History, Capital Moves is social history of capital migration through four communities, two countries, and a great deal of social upheaval. Shows how many of the issues we associate with globalization have historical roots deep in the twentieth century. 

"Capital Moves is a stunningly important work of historical imagination and rediscovery which links the present with the past in a fashion that is exciting and suggestive...One of the most provocative and useful books I have read in many years.”

-Nelson Lichtenstein, UC Santa Barbara

Looking beyond the immediate ramifications of plant shutdowns, this volume places deindustrialization in a broader social, political, and economic context. The essays in this volume examine this process through a wide range of topics, from worker narratives and media imagery, to suburban politics, environmental activism, and commemoration.

In this landmark study, some of our smartest urban geographers and historians revisit the industrial graveyards of New Deal America. These case studies should be court-ordered reading for those civic boosters who think that the deep wounds of plant closure can be healed with a new office park or some ‘dead tech’ sculpture gardens.”

-Mike Davis


Reclaiming Patriotism for the Left, New York Times, August 21, 2018

How Labor Scholars Missed the Trump Revolt, Chronicle of Higher Education,1 September 2017

The Right Type of Citizenship, Public Books, October 2017

What Trump Gets Wrong About NAFTA, Foreign Affairs, 4 May 2017

Taking Exception: A Dialogue with Jefferson Cowie, LABOR, May 2017

The Improbable Birth of American Rock Writing, Popmatters, March 2017

Donald Trump and History’s Competing Visions of America’s ‘Forgotten Man’, TIME Magazine, November 2016


America May Never Have Another New Deal, The New Republic, 15 March 2016


Great White Nope, Foreign Affairs, November-December 2016

Reframing the New Deal: The Past and Future of American Labor and the Law, Theoretical Inquiries in Law, February 2016

Why Are Economists So Small-Minded?, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 2016


Labor’s WTF Moment, POLITICO Magazine, February 2014


The Forty Hour Week: Bring it Back, New York Times, 3 February 2014


The Future of Fair Labor, New York Times, 25 June 2013


Love Song to the UAW, Dissent, 7 December 2012


Out of Control: Reagan, Labor, and the Fate of the Nation, Dissent, Winter 2012

Beyond Ohio: Why the Crisis of the Public Sector is Really in the Private Sector, The New Republic, 8 Nov 2011

Writing History in an Age of Inequality, History News Network, May 2011


Red White and Blue Collar, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Spring 2011


Are We Not Men? We Are Devo!, HNN, March 2011


We Can’t Go Home Again: Why the New Deal Won’t be Renewed, New Labor Forum, 25 January 2011


The Ghost of Full Employment, The American Prospect, 28 September 2010


That 70’s Feeling, New York Times,5 September 2010


On Lecturing in a Prison, Where Minds Are Free, The Chronicle Review, 21 February 2010


What is Socialism in 2009?, New York Times, 14 September 2009

Looking Beyond Our Own Bums, Cornell Daily Sun, 5 March 2009

The Long Exception: Rethinking the Place of the New in American History, ILWCH, Fall 2008

Talkin ‘bout Their Generation, Inside Higher Ed, 23 October 2007

Dead Man’s Town: ‘Born in the USA,’ Social History, and Working-Class Identity (with Lauren Boehm), American Quarterly, June 2006

A Liberal’s Heartland Lament, Chicago Tribune Books, 27 June 2004


The Intellectual as Fan, Reviews in American History, June 2004


Death in the Desert, Chicago Tribune, 3 April 2004


Pickup Line, The American Prospect, 7 November 2003


A One-Sided Class War’: Rethinking Doug Frasers’ 1978 Resignation from the Labor-Management Group, Labor History 2003


The Meanings of Deindustrialization (with Joseph Heathcott) in Beyond the Ruins: The Meanings of Deindustrialization (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2003)

Solidarity Strikes Out,The American Prospect, January 3, 2002




Jefferson Cowie holds the James G. Stahlman Chair in the Department of History at Vanderbilt University. He moved there in 2016 after teaching at Cornell University for nineteen years. His work in social and political history focuses on how class, inequality, and labor shape American politics and culture.The Nation magazine described Cowie as “one of our most commanding interpreters of recent American experience.”


His most recent book, The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics was released in early 2016 and attempts to reinterpret a wide swath of American political history in the twentieth century. The Washington Post‘s E.J. Dionne Jr. called it “one of the year’s most important political books."

Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class, draws together labor, politics, and popular culture into a vibrant narrative about the decline of class in American political culture. It received a number of “best book” awards, including two of the profession’s most prestigious: the 2011 Francis Parkman Prize for the Best Book in American History and the Merle Curti Award for the Best Book in Social and Intellectual History. Critics said, “Stayin’ Alive will long stand as the finest and most sophisticated portrait of politics and culture in the American 1970s, and also as a model for how to talk about both political and cultural transformations without shortchanging either.” Joan Walsh at called “one of the best books of 2010,” and scholarly reviews compared it favorably to the work of E.P. Thompson.


Capital Moves: RCA’s Seventy Year Quest for Cheap Labor charts the relocation of one firm through four different cities, two countries, and a great deal of social upheaval. It accounts for what made each community attractive for an industrial location and what changed to make the company relocate again. The book received the 2000 Phillip Taft Prize for the Best Book in Labor History, and was hailed by Michael Kazin as “a conceptually rich and deeply humane book [by] a rare historian who illuminates the future by explaining a vital part of the past.”

In addition to his scholarship, Cowie’s essays and opinion pieces have also appeared in the New York Times, TIME magazine, Foreign Affairs, Chronicle of Higher Ed, American Prospect, Politico, Democracy, The New Republic, Inside Higher Ed, Dissent, and other popular outlets.  The recipient of several fellowships, including the Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, the American Council of Learned Societies and Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Society for the Humanities at Cornell, and the Center for US-Mexican Studies at UC San Diego, he has also appeared in a variety of media outlets including CNN’s The Seventies, C‐Span’s Booknotes, NPR’s Weekend Edition, as well as documentaries, podcasts, and radio broadcasts.

Cowie is a passionate and dedicated educator, garnering a number of teaching awards during his career. From 2008 to 2012, he served as the first House Professor and Dean of William Keeton House on Cornell’s innovative West Campus where he and his family lived with three hundred undergraduates. He serves on the Board of Trustees for Deep Springs College.


Above all, he points to raising his kids as the most important experience of his life. Raised in the Midwest, he was educated at UC Berkeley, UNC Chapel Hill, and, most importantly, while climbing in the mountain ranges of the world.