Alfred W. McCoy

Position title: Harrington Professor of History


Phone: 608.263.1855

Office: 5131 Mosse Humanities
Mailbox: 5026 Mosse Humanities
Curriculum Vitae (pdf)
Office Hours: Thursdays 11:30am-1:30pm in-person or via telephone after making an appointment via email to

Alfred W. McCoy


After earning a Ph.D. in Southeast Asian history at Yale, my writing on this region has focused on three topics — the history of modern empires, Philippine political history and global opium trafficking.

My first book, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia (New York, 1972), sparked controversy when the CIA tried to block publication. But after three English editions and translation into nine foreign languages, this study is now regarded as the “classic” work on the global drug traffic.

My more recent work on covert operations, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (New York, 2006), explores the agency’s half-century history of psychological torture. A film based in part on that book, “Taxi to the Darkside,” won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2008. My latest study of this topic, Torture and Impunity (Madison, 2012), explores the political and cultural dynamics of America’s post 9/11 debate over interrogation.

The Philippines remains the major focus of my research. An investigation of President Marcos’s “fake medals,” published on page one of the New York Times (January 23, 1986) just weeks before the country’s presidential elections, contributed to the country’s transition from authoritarian rule. Analyzing the many coup attempts that followed, my book Closer Than Brothers (New Haven, 1999) documents the corrosive impact of torture upon the Philippine military.

Three of my edited volumes on Philippine historiography have won that country’s National Book Award. In 2001, the Association for Asian Studies awarded me the Goodman Prize for a “deep and enduring impact on Philippine historical studies.”

My book Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State (Madison, 2009), draws together several strands in my research to explore the transformative power of police, information, and scandal in shaping both the modern Philippine state and the U.S. internal security apparatus. In 2011, the Association for Asian Studies awarded that book the Kahin Prize, describing it as “a passionate, elegantly written book that owes its mastery to McCoy’s narrative and analytical gifts, his years of painstaking research and his sure sense of the ominous global implications of his story.”

In 2012, the Yale Graduate School Alumni Association awarded me the Wilbur Cross Medal which is presented annually to “a small number of outstanding alumni” to recognize “distinguished achievements in scholarship, teaching, academic administration, and public service.” Simultaneously, the University of Wisconsin-Madison gave me the Hilldale Award for Arts & Humanities for 2012.

My most recent book, To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change (Chicago, 2021), explores the interplay of three factors—sovereignty, human rights, and energy—in shaping the succession of empires and their global systems from the Black Death of 1350 through the coming climate crisis of 2050.

My teaching interests include: Modern Philippine social and political history; U.S. foreign policy; colonial empires in Southeast Asia; global illicit drug trafficking; and CIA covert operations.


Ph.D., Yale
M.A., University of California-Berkeley
B.A., Columbia College


Advisor To

Selected Awards

  • Yale Graduate School Alumni Asssociaton, Wilbur Cross Medal, 2012.
  • University of Wisconsin, Hilldale Award for Arts & Humanities, 2012
  • Association for Asian Studies, George Kahin Prize, 2011.
  • University of Wisconsin Graduate School, J.R.W. Smail Chair in History, 2004.
  • Philippine National Book Award, 1985, 1995, 2001.
  • Association for Asian Studies, Grant Goodman Prize, 2001.
  • Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad, 1998-99.

History Courses

  • History 319 – The Vietnam Wars – Syllabus 2021 (pdf)
  • History 458 – Southeast Asia Since 1800 – Syllabus 2021 (pdf)
  • History 375 – The Cold War – From World War II to End of Soviet Empire – Syllabus 2023 (pdf)
  • History 600 – World War II in the Pacific – Syllabus 2007 (pdf)
  • History 600 – Empire & Revolution: U.S. and European Empires in Southeast Asia – Syllbus 2011 (pdf)
  • History 600 – World War II in the Pacific
  • History 600 – CIA Covert Warfare and U.S. Foreign Policy – Syllabus 2023 (pdf)
  • History 600 – U.S. and European Colonialism in Southeast Asia – Syllabus 2021 (pdf)
  • History 755 – Empire & Revolution: U.S. and European Empires in Southeast Asia – Syllabus 2014 (pdf)
  • History 755 – CIA Covert Warfare and Conduct of US Foreign Policy – Syllabus 2021 (pdf)
  • History 755 – Reality of Images–Environmental Photography in Southeast Asia
  • History 755 – Islands of Southeast Asia–The Practice of Comparative History
  • History 755 – Tropical Dictators–Authoritarianism in Indonesia & the Philippines
  • History 755 – U.S. and European Colonialism in Southeast Asia – Syllabus 2021 (pdf)