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Sarah Nelson

Sarah is a PhD candidate in 20th-century US and international history, and a joint-PhD candidate in Comparative Media Analysis and Practice. She currently serves as the Ambrose Monell Fellow for Technology and Democracy at the Jefferson Scholars Foundation at the University of Virginia.

Sarah’s research focuses on the history of global media and telecommunications policy in international organizations. Her dissertation, “Information’s Imperium: the struggle to decolonize global telecommunications and make information ‘free,’ 1919-1984,” investigates how definitions of and visions for information freedoms competed in the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the League of Nations, United Nations, and Unesco, from the interwar period to the United States’ withdrawal from Unesco in 1984. The project explores how the political goal of freedom of information engaged and conflicted with national sovereignty claims and market monopoly praxes in multilateral institutions. The dissertation thus investigates how changing norms in global governance facilitated and constrained access to information over the global telecom network—but it is also about the reverse. It explores how debates over information freedoms themselves became sites of controversy about what it meant to govern globally, and spurred novel institutional norms and praxes in the pursuit of preserving, dismantling, and remaking imperial power relations during decolonization and Cold War.

Sarah’s work has been supported by the Jefferson Scholars Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the Ingram Fellowship. Her recent article in The Conversation, on the history of debates over international telecom governance and information inequality, is here. Her work in the Digital Humanities has produced interactive digital timelines, ArcGIS ESRI Story Maps, and podcasts produced with LogicPro X. She has also worked with the podcasting division of Nashville’s NPR affiliate, WPLN, and is currently the Early Career Intern at the Journal of Global History, of Cambridge University Press.

Sarah has taught in both the department of history and the communications department. She has also served in a variety of roles within the Vanderbilt community, including: Graduate History Association (GHA) co-president, GHA Social Chair; graduate representative to the Graduate School’s Working Group on Graduate Education; graduate representative to the History Department Committee on Community Ethics, and student coordinator of the Americanist Seminar.

Sarah is advised by Paul Kramer and Sarah Igo; her joint-PhD in CMAP is supervised by Lutz Koepnick. She is currently based in Washington, DC.