Allison Powers Useche

Position title: Assistant Professor of History


Phone: 608-890-3070

Office: 4120 Mosse Humanities Building
Mailbox: 4009 Mosse Humanities Building
Office Hours: Wednesdays 10am-12pm in 4120 Mosse Humanities

Allison Powers Useche headshot


I am a legal and political historian of modern North America. My research and teaching focus on United States imperialism, the American West, US foreign relations, and international order. I am currently writing a book about how a forgotten tradition of international legal claims against the United States government transformed foreign policymaking as the nation was becoming a global power. Between 1900 and 1930, thousands of residents of US-annexed territories charged the federal government with promoting forms of racial violence that violated the international norms known as the “standard of civilization.” The book argues that their claims served as an unrecognized impetus for the “turn to non-intervention” in US foreign policy orientation during the 1930s by prompting the United States to abandon one of the primary legal institutions through which it regularly meddled in foreign politics: state to state arbitration. Although the State Department had long used this form of international dispute resolution to promote the interests of American investors abroad by casting redistributive projects as violations of international law, it abandoned the practice at mid-century just as mass resource nationalization began to pose a global challenge to capital exporting states. Settlement Colonialism: Managing Empire in the United States demonstrates that foreign policymakers turned away from bilateral arbitration—and developed new institutions designed to project US power abroad in its place—in order to shield the federal government from the international scrutiny that arbitral tribunals had unexpectedly produced during the interwar years. By tracing the rise and fall of mass claims settlement as a central element of US imperial policy, the book uncovers a lost moment of possibility for international law to address structural injustices in the United States legal system.

I have begun research for two new book projects. The first considers how the discipline of comparative law emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century United States in tandem with imperial designs on the American West, Pacific, and Caribbean. The second is a synthetic history of International Law in American Politics and Society from the Founding to the Present.

I hold a B.A. in History from the University of California-Berkeley and a Ph.D. in History from Columbia University. Before joining the history department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I was a Clements Center Fellow for the Study of Southwestern America at Southern Methodist University, an assistant professor at Texas Tech University, and a Past & Present Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research in London.


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

Selected Publications

  • Settlement Colonialism: Managing Empire in the United States, 1868-1965, under contract with Oxford University Press.
  • “The Specter of Compensation: Mexican Claims Against the United States, 1868-1938.” Beyond the Borders of the Law: Critical Legal Histories of the North American West. Ed. Pablo Mitchell and Katrina Jagondinsky. Kansas University Press, 2018.
  • “Gilt Trip,” review of Brahmin Capitalism: Frontiers of Wealth and Populism in America’s First Gilded Age, by Noam Maggor, Dissent Magazine (Fall 2017).
  • “Tragedy Made Flesh: Constitutional Lawlessness in Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East 34:1 Special Issue on Insurgent Political Thought, Spring 2014.

Selected Awards

  • Clements Center for Southwest Studies Fellowship, Southern Methodist University 2019-2020
  • Award for Faculty Excellence in Research and Scholarship, Texas Tech University, 2019
  • Past and Present Postdoctoral Fellowship, Institute of Historical Research, University of London 2017-2018
  • Cromwell Dissertation Prize from the American Society for Legal History, 2017
  • Bancroft Dissertation Award in American History and Diplomacy, Columbia University, 2017
  • Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, 2016-2017
  • History in Action Project Award from Columbia History Department/AHA-Mellon, Summer 2016
  • International Travel Fellowship from Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Fall 2015
  • Littleton-Griswold Research Grant from the American Historical Association, 2015
  • Columbia Institute for Latin American Studies Summer Field Research Grant, 2015
  • Envirotech 2015 American Society for Environmental History Travel Grant, 2015
  • Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Samuel Flagg Bemis Research Grant, 2014

History Courses Taught