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The Absolutely Indispensable Man: Ralph Bunche, the United Nations, and the Fight to End Empire

Date & Time

Jan. 23, 2023
4:00pm – 5:30pm ET


Online Only


The Absolutely Indispensable Man explores the life of Ralph Bunche, the first black Nobel Laureate and a man who reshaped postwar diplomacy. To many in midcentury America Bunche personified both the promise and perils of the United Nations during the Cold War. Civil rights and colonialism are rarely twinned in our understanding of 20th century politics, but for Bunche they were of a piece–manifestations of white supremacy that required dismantling to achieve a just world. Decolonization was a throughline in Bunche’s career, which spanned Harvard, Howard, the State Department, and ultimately the UN, and also the impetus for several key innovations, including UN peacekeeping and mediation.  

Kal Raustiala is the promise distinguished professor of international and comparative law at UCLA and the director of the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations. Trained at Duke, Harvard, and the University of California, he has taught at Princeton, Yale, Harvard, and Columbia. His previous books include Does the Constitution follow the Flag? The Evolution of Territoriality in American Law (OUP, 2009) and Global Governance in a World of Change (CUP, 2021, with Michael Barnett and Jon Pevehouse). 

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is organized jointly by the American Historical Association and the Woodrow Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks its anonymous individual donors and institutional partner (the George Washington University History Department) for their continued support.



Kal Raustiala

Kal Raustiala

Promise Distinguished Professor of International and Comparative Law, UCLA


Jessica Pearson

Jessica Pearson

Associate Professor of European History, Macalester College

Hosted By

History and Public Policy Program

The History and Public Policy Program makes public the primary source record of 20th and 21st century international history from repositories around the world, facilitates scholarship based on those records, and uses these materials to provide context for classroom, public, and policy debates on global affairs.  Read more

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