Dr Helen Laville BA, PhD

Dr Helen Laville

Department of History
Head of School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies
Reader in American History

Contact details

Arts Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

The focus of my research is on post-war American history. I have published on women’s history, the cold war, civil rights and gender and international relations.


  • BA, University of Birmingham
  • PhD (1998) University of Nottingham


I gained my first degree in Medieval and Modern History at the University of Birmingham and my PhD at the University of Nottingham. I have taught American and Canadian Studies at Birmingham since 1998. I have published in my chief research areas, Gender and International Relations, Civil Rights, and Cold War Film. I am also the Head of the School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies.


  • The African-American Experience
  • Cold War Film  
  • American History since 1890
  • The American Woman since 1945

Postgraduate supervision

I have supervising two PhD students to completion, both working on post-world war two American history. I am currently supervising a third PhD on The history of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). I have also supervised a number of MRes Mphil and MA students. I would welcome further PhD student working in the area of post-World War II American history, Civil Rights, and women’s internationalism. 


My first monograph Cold War Women: The International Activities of American Women's Organizations (Manchester University Press. (2002) was shortlisted for the Gladstone First Book prize by the Royal Historical Society. Research into gender and the Cold War and women’s rights in the post-war period more broadly remains a strong part of my publication strategy, and I am recognized as an expert in this field, publishing on this topic in the recent Oxford History of the Cold War (2013). My specialism in the early years of the Commission on the Status of Women’s Rights in the UN has placed me at the forefront of scholars of international women’s networks and history, and I was invited to contribute a review essay on women and international advocacy to a special edition of The Journal of Women’s History in 2012.  More broadly, my research on women international associations has led to a wider interrogation of the relationship between state power and non-governmental organizations.  I have co-organized two symposiums on this topic, both of which resulted in the publication of edited collections (2006 and 2011). As a result of this strong record of publication I have established a strong profile as a scholar of the ’State-private network’ in the Cold War, and of women’s international organizing and global women’s rights.

My current research focuses on the response of  white women’s organizations in the United States towards the post war demand for racial integration and civil rights. My Research in this topic was initally supported by an ESRC network grant on Civil Rights and Social Capital, co-organized with Professor Peter Ling of Nottingham University.  This grant enabled me to organize two international seminars at Birmingham, funding particaption from leading US Scholars such as Belinda Robnett, and NGOs such as DEMOS. My research on this topic has appeared in leading journals such as The Journal of American Studies and Women’s History Review. A further article on the topic of women’s efforts to promote integration in Montgomery Alabama is in progress I mm currently working on a monograph on this topic.

Other activities

I served as a member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council Peer Review College from 2008  as a member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council moderating panel in 2010.  I have also served as a reviewer for a number of academic presses in the United States including Fordham University Press, University of Florida University Press and Cornell University Press. I have also served as both a peer reviewer and a book reviewer for a number of leading journals such as The American Historical Review, History, Journal of Women’s History, Journal of American Studies, and Journal of Intelligence History.  I have been an invited speaker at a number of international conferences and symposia, and have served as an external examiner for PhD candidates at the university of Sheffield and the University of Leicester. I have also written for the New Statesman.


Books and edited collections.

  • “Women, Guided and Misguided” Organized White Women and the Challenge of Race Relations 1930-1965  (Forthcoming)
  • Cold War Women: The International Activities of American Women's OrganisationsManchester University Press. (2002)
  • The US Government, Citizen Groups and the Cold War. The State-Private Network Laville, H. & Wilford, H.(eds), Routledge Studies in Intelligence,  (2006)
  • US Public and American Foreign Policy. Laville, H and Johnstone, A. (eds), Routledge Studies in US Foreign Policy, (2011)

Articles and review essays

  • “Gender Issues in an Era of Liberal Consensus”, The Liberal Consensus Reconsidered: American Politics and Society in the Postwar Era Mortan, I and Mason R (eds) University of Florida Press (Forthcoming, 2016)
  • “Gender and Women's Rights in the Cold War”, The Oxford Handbook of the Cold War. Immerman, R. & Goedde, P. (eds.). Oxford University Press, pp. 524-539 (2013)
  •  “Internationalism, Transnationalism and Organizational Identity in Women’s International Associations 1945-1975”, Beyond the Nation: Pushing the Boundaries of U.S. History from a Transatlantic Perspective, Fasce, F,  Vaudagna, M.&  Baritario, R (eds.), Otto Editore, (2013)
  • “American Foreign Policy and Women's Rights”, Challenging US Foreign Policy. American and the World in the Long Twentieth Century. Sewell, B. & Lucas, S. (eds)  Palgrave Macmillan, pp.  260-280(2011)
  • “Woolly, half baked and impractical? British Responses to the Commission on Status of Women and the Convention of the Political Rights of Women 1946-1967”, Twentieth Century British History. 23:4, pp. 473-495. (2012)
  • “Gender Apartheid? American women and women's rights in American Foreign Policy”,The US Public and American Foreign Policy. Laville, H. & Johnstone, A. (eds.). Routledge, pp. 87-103(2010)
  • “"Women of Conscience" or " Women of Conviction"? The National Women's Committee on Civil Rights”,  Journal of American Studies.43:2, pp. 277-298,(2009)
  • “A New Era in International Women’s Rights?: American Women’s Associations and the Establishment of the UN Commission on the Status of Women”, Journal of Women's History. 20:4, pp 34-56, (2008)
  • “Protecting Difference or Promoting equality? US government approaches to women's rights and the UN Commission on the Status of Women, 1945-50”Comparative American Studies.5: 3, pp291-305, (2007)
  • “"Our Country Endangered by Underwear": Fashion, Femininity and the Seduction Narrative in Ninotchka and Silk Stockings”, Diplomatic History.30:4, pp623-644. (2006)
  • “'If the Time is not Ripe, Then it is your Job to Ripen the Time!' The transformation of the YWCA in the USA from Segregated Association to Interracial Organization 1930-1965”, Women's History Review.15:3, pp 359-383, (2006) 
  • The Importance of being (in) earnest: Voluntary associations and the irony of the State-private network during the early Cold War US Government, Citizen Groups and the Cold War. The State-Private network. Wilford, H. & Laville H, (eds) Routledge, pp47-65 (2006)
  • “The Memorial Day Statement: Women's Organizations in the 'Peace Offensive' “ The Cultural Cold War in Western Europe 1945-1960. Krabbendam, H. & Scott-Smith, G. (eds) Frank Cass, pp.192-212, (2003)
  • “’Spokewomen for Democracy’: The International work of the National Council of Negro Women in the Cold War”, Crossroutes: The meaning of ‘race’ for the 21st Century Boi S and Broeck S (ed) (Transaction 2003)
  • Helen Laville and Scott Lucas, ‘Edith Sampson, the NAACP, and African-American identity’ Diplomatic History 20:4, pp565-590,( Fall 1996)

Reviews and review essays

  • “Crochet is Powerful” Joana Vasconcelos: Time Machine pp26-30 (Manchester Art Galleries, 2014)
  • "Stay Involved": Transnational Feminist Advocacy and Women's Human Rights" Journal of Women's History.24:4 pp 222-231,(2012)
  • “Glamour in the Pacific: Cultural Internationalism and Race Politics in the Women's Pan-Pacific” The American Historical Review.116: 3, pp 786-787, (2011)
  • Unofficial ambassadors: American military families overseas and the Cold War, 1946-1965 The American Historical Review.113: 2, pp 532-533,
  • Cold War Captives: Imprisonment, Escape and Brainwashing,  Journal of American Studies.44:3, p. 59 (2010)

Selected conference papers and plenaries.

  • ‘Gender and Liberal Consensus’ The Liberal Consensus 1945-1960: Myth or Reality?, Institute of the Americas, University College London, London 2013.
  • ‘Internationalism and Transnationalism in US Women’s Activism’ Beyond the Nation-State University of Genoa 2012.
  • ‘Experts or Diplomats? Women’s Rights, the Nation-State and the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations’ Berkshire Conference of Women Historians University of Massachussetts, 2011.
  • ‘Women, Gender Politics and the CIA’ Landscapes of Secrecy University of Warwick 2011.
  • ‘Women and the early Cold War’, Intimate Internationalism: Women Transforming the Political on Post War Europe Potsdam 2010.
  •  ‘Cold warriors?  The impact of the Cold War on American women’s associations’ American Historical Association, January 2009.
  •  “A Broken Wing? Women's Rights as Barometer of Democracy in the Middle East” SHAFR Conference Columbus Ohio,  June 2008.
  •  ‘Anglo-American co-operation and the internationalisation of women’s rights’, ‘Allies and Clients: American Special Relationships’ David Bruce Centre for American Studies, April 2007.
  • ‘Sex and the Bomb: Teaching Sexuality and Gender and the Cold War’ American Studies Association, Washington DC, November 2005.