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Faculty in Focus - Jeff Malanson


Jeffrey Malanson, assistant professor of history, joined COAS’s Department of History in 2010. His research specialization is early American foreign policy, especially that of the founding fathers. A prolific researcher and publisher, he also shares his expertise through numerous community events.

In Addressing America: George Washington’s Farewell and the Making of National Culture, Politics, and Diplomacy, 1796–1852 (2015), Malanson reevaluates how George Washington’s 1796 presidential farewell address influenced American foreign policy. Washington advocated for a policy of strict neutrality for the United States, but noted that leaders should reevaluate foreign policy as America became a stronger nation. Malanson explores the political and cultural impact of this address, noting that Washington’s words were “used and misused” in foreign policy debates throughout the 19th century. (Malanson discusses his book further in the Faculty in Focus video.)

According to Malanson, research such as his is relevant to the current US political climate in many ways. Politicians often invoke the ideas of the founding fathers, which according to Malanson, can be problematic. “As a historian who specializes in the founding fathers, you’d think I’d be excited about people talking about them,” but they’re often selectively quoted to promote a particular political agenda. Often when politicians make claims about what early American leaders intended, the founding fathers’ wide-ranging and often contradictory opinions are not acknowledged: “The problem is, the founders didn’t agree on anything. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were fighting almost as soon as the government began. The political parties disagreed much more fundamentally about the nature of government and the United States than Democrats or Republicans do today.” Malanson believes that the founders have things to teach us, but those things should be “more narrowly than broadly applied.”

Malanson also works locally to increase public interest in early American history. He created the “What Would George Washington Do?” presentation to engage with community members who want to learn more about how Washington’s foreign policy applies to current foreign policy. He has given this presentation through the Rewire Program for Lifelong Learners and at the Fort Wayne International Affairs Forum. Malanson has also been involved in more than 17 public lectures since 2010, including eight panel discussions for COAS’s University Community Conversation (UC2) series.

While he continues to study America’s early leaders, Malanson’s current research focuses on James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. He is working on a book tentatively titled, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton: The Relationship That Created and Divided the Nation. In it, he will explore the often overlooked relationship between Madison and Hamilton, especially how (and why) these men who collaborated closely to develop the US Constitution ultimately became political opponents. Malanson hopes that his research, publications, and community lectures will help shed light on the policies and individuals who shaped America in its infancy.

To learn more contact Malanson or the history department.