Elizabeth Cobbs


Elizabeth Cobbs was a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Cobbs is a historian, novelist, and documentary filmmaker, holds the Melbern G. Glasscock Chair in American History at Texas A&M. She specializes in US foreign relations and also writes more broadly on world and American history for the general public. She is the author of eight books, the latest of which are The Tubman Command (Arcade 2019), about the story of Harriet Tubman at the height of her powers, The Hello Girls: America’ First Women Soldiers (Harvard 2017), about the First World War and women’s suffrage, and The Hamilton Affair: A Novel (Arcade 2016), about the American Revolution.

Cobbs’s first book, The Rich Neighbor Policy: Rockefeller and Kaiser in Brazil (Yale 1992) won the Allan Nevins Prize and the Stuart L. Bernath Prize. Her first novel, Broken Promises: A Novel of the Civil War (Random House 2011) won the San Diego Book Award and received Director’s Mention for the David J. Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction. In 2016 American Public Television broadcast her first documentary film, American Umpire, on the history and future of US grand strategy. Sponsored by WETA-Washington, it won Best Short Documentary at the San Diego GI Film Festival in 2017. Her other books include American Umpire (Harvard 2013), All You Need Is Love: The Peace Corps and the 1960s (Harvard 2000), and four editions of the textbook Major Problems in American History (Cengage 2002–15). She has written essays and articles for the New York Times, Reuters, Jerusalem Post, Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, San Jose Mercury, San Diego Union, Washington Independent, Politico, and The Hill, as well as various academic journals.

Elizabeth Cobbs earned her PhD at Stanford University in 1988. She served on the Historical Advisory Committee of the US State Department from 1995 to 2005 and the jury for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in History. From 1999 to 2015, she held the Dwight E. Stanford Chair in American Foreign Relations at San Diego State University, where she twice won the departmental award for Most Influential Teacher. Previously, she was chair of the History Department at the University of San Diego. 

Her current projects include a documentary for public television on the history and future of work in the age of artificial intelligence, an article on patterns of American diplomacy, and a novel on the Civil War military service of Harriet Tubman.

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Recent Commentary

Analysis and Commentary

The United States Should Choose Conciliation With China, Not Confrontation

by Elizabeth Cobbsvia The Washington Post
Saturday, December 1, 2018

Rather than threats, the U.S. should celebrate China’s rise and use international bodies like the WTO to correct its misdeeds.


19th Amendment Anniversary: Evaluating Woodrow Wilson's Complicated Contributions To Women's Equality

by Elizabeth Cobbsvia NBC News
Sunday, August 26, 2018

Wilson did not begin as a crusader for equality. He supported the status quo — until history backed him into a corner.


Harriet Tubman On The $20 Bill Would Be Smart For The President, His Party And The Nation

by Elizabeth Cobbsvia The Hill
Sunday, August 19, 2018

Could a black, Republican, female military hero who once helped reunite our country do so again? The Trump administration has vacillated on whether or not to place Harriet Tubman on the new $20 bill, but confirming this choice would be smart for the president, his party, and the nation.

Analysis and Commentary

Historians Urge Treasury Secretary Mnuchin To Confirm Harriet Tubman On The New 20-Dollar Bill For Upcoming Anniversary Of Women's Suffrage

by Elizabeth Cobbs, Catherine Clintonvia PRNewswire
Wednesday, August 8, 2018

127 professional American historians have signed an open letter to Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin urging that he commit to plans previously announced to replace President Andrew Jackson on the front of the 20-dollar bill with Harriet Tubman, escaped slave turned abolitionist and Civil War military scout. The redesign was to be unveiled by 2020, the 100th anniversary of the vote for women.

Analysis and Commentary

Kanye West Is Lecturing Us On Slavery. But He Gets The History All Wrong.

by Elizabeth Cobbsvia The Washington Post
Friday, May 4, 2018

West needs to study the life of Harriet Tubman before spouting off about her.

Analysis and Commentary

Why The Pulitzer Prize Committee Keeps Ignoring Women’s History

by Elizabeth Cobbsvia The Washington Post
Friday, April 13, 2018

Women's work hasn't been hidden. It just hasn't been seen.

Analysis and Commentary

Great Lives: Soldiering For Suffrage In World War I

by Elizabeth Cobbsvia Fredericksburg.com
Saturday, February 3, 2018

In 1917, Secretary of War Newton Baker disliked the idea of female workers on Army bases so intensely that he didn’t even want to build toilets for them. They might stick around.

Analysis and Commentary

The Expanding Blaze: How The American Revolution Ignited The World, 1775-1848, By Jonathan Israel

by Elizabeth Cobbsvia Times Higher Education (UK)
Thursday, October 12, 2017

I hope on my account you will become a good American,” the Marquis de Lafayette, the French aristocrat who fought in the American Revolutionary War, wrote to his wife in 1777. He was expressing the goal of reformers around the globe for the succeeding century.

World War I Pictorial, Box 33, Hoover Institution Archives
Analysis and Commentary

'Hello Girls' Answered Our Nation's Call

by Elizabeth Cobbsvia Houston Chronicle
Saturday, May 27, 2017

They answered call in WWI, led efforts to secure vote, benefits.

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Winning Women

by Elizabeth Cobbsvia Hoover Digest
Monday, April 24, 2017

Woodrow Wilson at first found himself scandalized by protesting women, but soon he championed their cause. How President Trump and feminists might likewise make common cause.