Powers Useche, Allison

Field: United States; Advisor: Ngai; Year: 2011

Allison Powers is a legal historian of the United States in the World and a Ph.D. Candidate in History at Columbia. She joined the doctoral program in 2011 after receiving a B.A. in History with highest honors from the University of California, Berkeley. Her research and teaching interests include nineteenth and twentieth-century United States History, U.S.-Latin America Relations, and International History. She is currently a 2016-2017 Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellow and serves as rapporteur for the Columbia University Seminar on Twentieth Century Politics and Society.

Her dissertation, Settlement Colonialism: Law, Arbitration, and Compensation in United States Expansion, 1868-1941, explains how international disputes over the legal foundations of U.S. imperial expansion became sites of political struggle over the distributive consequences of the American justice system. Between the mid-nineteenth century and the early twentieth, the U.S. submitted to a series of international tribunals designed to award market value compensation for loss of life and property resulting from the wave of territorial annexations that transformed the nation from a set of contiguous states into a global empire. These claims commissions created a legal framework for expansion by characterizing colonial dispossession as a form of monetary exchange that could be retroactively settled through arbitration. This model then came into crisis when foreign nationals living in United States territories turned to the process of claims settlement to argue that the U.S. government sanctioned forms of state violence and labor coercion in violation of the international legal norms known as the “standard of civilization.” By demonstrating how claimants used these tribunals to question the government’s ability to protect life and property within its borders, the dissertation uncovers a forgotten moment of struggle over the limits and possibilities of international law to address structural injustices within the American legal system.

Research for this project has been funded by a Littleton-Griswold Grant from the American Historical Association, a Samuel Flagg Bemis Dissertation Research Grant from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, a Field Research Grant from Columbia’s Institute for Latin American Studies, and an International Travel Fellowship from Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. At Columbia, Allison has worked as a Lehman Research Fellow at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, as Graduate Student Coordinator for the Double Discover Center’s Freedom and Citizenship Program, and as an advisor in the American Studies Department. As a Teaching Fellow, she has explored histories of the United States and Latin America with students through courses including Latin American Civilization I, Science and Technology in the U.S., Modern France and its Empire, The Making of the Modern American Landscape, and The Modern Caribbean.