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Department of History

Contact Information

phone: 615-322-5950
112 Benson Hall

Office Hours

Monday 1:30-3 pm


PhD, Harvard University, 1982

Gary Gerstle

James G. Stahlman Professor of American History
Professor Political Science; Director, Vanderbilt History Seminar

Gary Gerstle is a historian of the twentieth-century United States, with particular interest in three major areas of inquiry: 1) immigration, race, and nationality; 2) the significance of class in social and political life; 3) and social movements, popular politics, and the state.  Gerstle is the author, co-author, and co-editor of six books and the author of more than thirty articles on these topics.  Working-Class Americanism (Cambridge, 1989) explores issues of class, ethnicity, and Americanization among workers and their unions during the Great Depression.  American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, 2001), winner of the 2001 Saloutos Prize for the outstanding work in immigration and ethnic history, examines how the modern American nation was shaped by the robust, protean, and contradictory traditions of civic and racial nationalism. The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 1930-1980 (Princeton, 1989), a book Gerstle co-edited with Steve Fraser, analyzes how the Democratic Party and liberalism came to dominate American politics from the 1930s through the 1960s and why both collapsed in the 1970s.  A second book co-edited with Fraser, Ruling America: A History of Wealth and Power in a Democracy (Harvard, 2005), explores how ruling elites have taken shape in America and how they have gained and lost political power.  Gerstle has also co-edited  E Pluribus Unum?  (Russell Sage, 2001), an examination of past and current immigration to the United States, and he has coauthored Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People (Wadsworth), a college and high school AP textbook, now in its Sixth Edition.  He is currently writing Governing America, an interpretive history of the uses (and abuses) of public power in the United States from the Revolution to the present. 

Gerstle has received numerous fellowships, including a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, and a Membership at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.  In 2012-2013, Oxford appointed him to the Harmsworth Professorship in American History.  Also in 2012, the National Museum of American History (Smithsonian Institution) appointed him Goldman Sachs Senior Fellow to advise them on "Migration Nation,” an exhibit on immigration and migration being planned for 2015.  He has served as the Annenberg Visiting Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a Visiting Professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociale in Paris.  He has lectured throughout the United States and in Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Belgium, South Korea, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Italy, Brazil, Japan, and South Africa. He was elected to the Society of American Historians in 2005 and named a Distinguished Lecturer of the Organization of American Historians in 2007.  Gerstle has also lectured widely to the general public, and is often consulted by newspaper reporters, magazine writers, and television producers on matters pertinent to his areas of historical expertise. He has testified on questions of immigration before the Immigration Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill.  In 2008, Maureen Costigan, book critic of NPR's Fresh Air, chose American Crucible (2001) as one of the "Best Books for a Transformative New Year." His writing has been translated into Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, and Japanese.

A book series, Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America, that Gerstle co-edits for Princeton University Press has published more than thirty books, many of them prizewinners.  Gerstle has served on the editorial boards of the American Historical Review, Dissent, the Journal of American Ethnic History, and the Journal of American History, and on the nominating board of the Association of American Studies.

Gerstle teaches a wide variety of courses, including an introduction to U.S. history (at both the undergraduate and graduate level) and seminars on subjects such as immigration, race, and nationality; politics, social movements, and the state; and labor history. He is currently advising nine Ph.D. students on dissertations in nineteenth and twentieth-century U.S. history.

Before coming to Vanderbilt in 2006, Gerstle taught at the University of Maryland, where he was Director of the Center for Historical Studies (2000–2003) and Chair of the Department of History (2003–2006).