Roady, Peter

Field: United States; Advisor: Jones; Year: 2015

I am a historian of the 20th and 21st century United States with interests that cut across disciplines and historical subfields. I focus on the many ways in which “national security” has shaped American society.

My dissertation explores the history of the phrase “national security” itself. Most people assume that “national security” refers only to physical security to be achieved primarily through foreign policy. However, I argue that the triumph of this conception of “national security” was the result of a high-stakes contest between liberals and conservatives in the 1930s and 1940s to shape the responsibilities of the federal government. When Franklin Roosevelt first introduced the phrase into mainstream American political discourse in the 1930s he used it to articulate a broad vision of the federal government’s responsibilities for “national security” that encompassed economic, social, and physical security, to be achieved through a mix of domestic and foreign policy. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, conservatives waged a successful campaign to exclude economic and social security from the government’s national security responsibilities and to limit national security policymaking to foreign policy. As a result, economic and social security became the purview not of “national security” policymakers but of “welfare” administrators. The conservative victory had significant consequences for resource flows to and public perceptions of “national security” and “welfare,” hardened gender roles, and established boundaries around law, policy, and thought that limited the scope of political possibilities in the United States.

My work includes a strong public history element. I hope to inform conversations not only in academia but also among policymakers and the general public. For example, I have an article forthcoming in the Journal of Policy History that shows how in the 1970s the Ford administration—led by Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Antonin Scalia—blunted efforts to legislate a charter for all components of the intelligence community, headed off meaningful congressional and judicial regulation of electronic surveillance, and preserved executive primacy over intelligence activities. The article provides the essential backstory to present-day debates about surveillance, privacy, and the balance of power between the branches of government.

I draw upon the approaches and insights of multiple disciplines in my work—including sociology, anthropology, geography, economics, political science, and psychology—and actively seek collaborations with researchers in these and other fields. I use both traditional historical research methods as well as newer approaches from the growing field of digital humanities, such as text mining, social network analysis, and data visualization. Mirroring my teaching, I aim to present my research in multiple ways—in written, visual, and audio form—to make it accessible to people with different cognitive styles and preferences.

Before pursuing my doctorate, I worked for five years in national security and foreign policy positions in the government focused on South Asia and cyber issues. I left my career in government to pursue a doctorate because I am passionate about teaching and mentoring. A central goal of my teaching is to empower students by helping them learn how to learn so that they can nurture a life-long habit of curiosity and intellectual exploration. Inside the classroom and particularly in one-on-one interactions outside of it, I work to expand students’ perceptions of the universe of possibilities and help them develop the skills and self-belief to pursue their dreams and drive change in their communities.

You can learn more about me on my website.


“The Ford Administration, the National Security Agency, and the ‘Year of Intelligence,’” forthcoming in the Journal of Policy History. 

“Simplifying Cybersecurity,” The Hill, February 26, 2016. Co-authored with Michael Sulmeyer.


M.A. M.Phil., History, Columbia University, 2016, 2018

MPP, International Security and Political Economy, Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government, 2009

B.A., magna cum laude, with honors in History, Davidson College, 2006