Brandon Kirk Williams

PhD Candidate

North America


I am an International and US history PhD candidate currently bouncing around the world on research, and I will be a Fulbright-Hays DDRA Fellow in Indonesia during the 2017-2018 academic year. My dissertation traces the history of the International Labor Organization's (ILO) post-1945 global development agenda that intersected with postcolonial modernization efforts in India and Indonesia. Why would postcolonial India or Indonesia turn to the ILO, led by a former New Deal labor bureaucrat? The ILO's message of corporatist labor peace offered a route to economic sovereignty and thus found a sympathetic audience in the developing global South that embraced the ILO in the 1950s and 1960s. Together, all parties collaborated via technical assistance to make labor. In a similar vein, the Nobel Peace Prize committee selected the ILO to receive the Peace Prize in 1969 due to its global campaign of technical assistance and for social justice. The prize became a pyrrhic victory before the welter of the 1970s. The ILO struggled to survive in a world dominated by the Washington Consensus, production flight to Asia, and structural adjustment. And as the ILO's 100-year jubilee nears in 2019, the ILO faces an unsteady future.

Why study the ILO? An outside observer may consider the ILO to be a mundane, dusty arm of the UN. Even to my surprise, the ILO is a window into a wider history of capitalism's diffusion and the rise of globalization in Asia. My spelunking in the ILO's archive points to a globe-spanning institution that earned the Nobel Peace Prize for its unparalleled efforts to build industrial sovereignty. The ILO's history narrates tectonic changes in the meaning of labor and the life cycle of industrial political economy. Rather than a fleeting curiosity of the past, the ILO is indispensable in explaining global economic transformations during the twentieth-century that resulted in globalization and staggering levels of inequality found in the United States and around the world.

My graduate career has been supported by multiple academic year and summer Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships for Indonesian and Arabic, the Mellon Foundation, presidential library grants, and grants from the University of California. I spend inordinate amounts of time searching for accessible swimming pools while away on research. My profile picture was captured after I earned distinction on my PhD qualifying exam. The pastry wrapped in wax paper? It's an apple cloud. And like this photo, it's courtesy of my dear friend Derek.


Research Interests

  • International & Global History
  • US History
  • US and the World
  • History of Capitalism
  • South & Southeast Asian Studies
  • History of the Archive
  • Postcolonialism
  • Globalization

Awards & Fellowships

Rockefeller Archive Center Research Grant

Fulbright-Hays DDRA for Indonesia

Distinction in Qualifying Exam 2016

History Department Conference Travel Grants 2016 & 2017

Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library Grant

Gerald Ford Presidential Library Grant

Harry Truman Presidential Library Grant

FLAS Intermediate Indonesian 2014-2015 & Advanced Indonesian 2015-2016

FLAS Summer Indonesian 2014 & 2015

FLAS Advanced Arabic 2013-2014

Andrew Mellon Foundation Travel Grant

Graduate Division Summer Research Grants 2014 & 2015


Publications & Presentations

"Labor's Cold War Missionaries," article in Labor, 7:4 (December 2010), 45-69

"Treasures Unseen: The Opening of Nehru's Post-47 Papers" Blog Entry for Wilson Center, 5/22/2017

"Djakarta is Coming / Djakarta Se Acerca: The Global Turn to the Market & The ILO's Near Demise" OAH, 2018

"Voices from the Development Decades" LAWCHA, June 2017

"Developing Labor, Developing Sovereignty in South Asia" Princeton South Asia Conference, April 2017

"Making the World Safe For Capitalism?" — Histories of Capitalism Conference, Cornell University, September 2016

"The Beep Heard 'Round the World?" — GWU-USB-LSE Graduate Student Conference on the Cold, April 2016