Nick Cullather

Professor, Department of History

Professor, International Studies

Editor, Diplomatic History

Department of History

IU; IU Bloomington

Full Biography

I am a historian of United States foreign relations specializing in the history of intelligence, development, and nation-building. The United States uses aid, covert operations, diet, statistics, and technology to reconstruct the social reality of countries around the world, and I am interested in these subtle mechanisms of power. My most recent book The Hungry World (2010), explores the use of food as a tool of psychological warfare and regime change during the Cold War. My first book, Illusions of Influence (1994), described the process through which a former American colony negotiated its conditional independence. In the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency developed a capacity to replace unsuitable governments, elected or otherwise, as I show in Secret History (2006).

Right now, I am investigating the early history of the CIA, and asking why a country so committed to pluralism and the marketplace of ideas staked its security on the novel notion of central intelligence. Putting vital information under control of a single authority has never fit comfortably with democratic ideals, and in a perennial political ritual, the “intelligence failure,” Americans question and reaffirm the CIA compromise. My current project, First Line of Defense, follows this debate from 1947 to the present day.

Honors and Awards

  • OAH Distinguished Lecturer
  • Co-Editor, Diplomatic History
  • Fulbright Fellow to Singapore and the Phillippines

Research Interests

  • Diplomatic history
  • Modernization theory
  • U.S.-Asian relations
  • Intelligence



  • A.B. at Indiana University, 1981
  • Ph.D. at University of Virginia, 1993

Courses Taught

  • "America's Nations": The military occupations of the United States
  • The Vietnam War
  • World War II
  • US Foreign Relations in the Twentieth Century
  • American Century Lives: The Twentieth Century in Biography



  • The Hungry World: America’s Cold War Battle Against Poverty in Asia. Harvard, 2010.
  • Of the People. Co-authored with James Oakes, Jan Lewis, Jeanne Boydston, and Michael McGerr. Oxford, 2010.
  • Secret History: The CIA's Classified Account of its Operations in Guatemala, 1952-1954. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2nd Edition, 2006.
  • Illusions of Influence: The Political Economy of United States-Philippines Relations, 1942-1960. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994.


  • "The Foreign Policy of the Calorie," American Historical Review 122 (April 2007) 2: 337-364
  • "Miracles of Modernization: The Green Revolution and the Apotheosis of Technology,” Diplomatic History 28 (April 2004) 2: 227-254.
  • "Damming Afghanistan: Modernization in a Buffer State," Journal of American History 89 (September 2002) 2: 512-537. Reprinted in History and September 11th, edited by Joanne Meyerowitz. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003. pp. 22-55.