Stephen Porter

Stephen Porter

Associate Professor

Professional Summary

Steve Porter explores the intersection of humanitarianism and U.S. power over the long twentieth century as experienced both internationally and domestically. He is particularly interested in the ways that state and civil society actors have collaborated, harmoniously and otherwise, in innovative governing initiatives seeking to justify themselves significantly through an embrace of ethical rationales. He has considered these issues in his book Benevolent Empire: U.S. Power, Humanitarianism, and the World’s Dispossessed (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), published essays and professional presentations. Benevolent Empire is the winner of the 2018 Hall award, given for the best book on the history of civil society, philanthropy and/or the non-profit sector, any country or region. Central to his research interests are changing conceptions of ethical responsibilities and rights along with the management refugee crises and other humanitarian dilemmas wrought by war, persecution, upheaval, and other disruptive phenomena so emblematic of the modern world order. These efforts include both international aid initiatives on behalf of vulnerable populations abroad and immigration programs to systematically resettle select groups of political refugees admitted to the U.S.
A presentation of Benevolent Empire can be found here:

His current research agenda includes pursuing these themes through the past several decades. He is additionally examining how Cold-War era U.S.-Americans, operating outside of government, engaged with counterparts in communist countries in efforts at nongovernmental diplomacy when their respective states largely maintained adversarial postures toward one another.
At the University of Cincinnati, he has served as director of the International Human Rights Certificate, chair of the Tolley Scholarship in International Human Rights, and chair of the Taft Center’s Human Rights Research Group. A former fellow of the Institute for Historical Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, he has a PhD in History from the University of Chicago.
Professor Porter’s research interests inform his teaching, and vice versa. The courses he has taught include:


  • U.S. Foreign Relations II (long 20th century)
  • Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Relations I & II (18th through 21st centuries)
  • Human Rights and Security
  • U.S.-Middle East Refugees, Immigration & Human Rights
  • Immigration, Race, Citizenship: Across the Disciplines (honors course with travel component)
  • Refugees and Immigration (freshman seminar)
  • War on the U.S. Home Front
  • War & U.S. Society
  • America & the Long Second World War (Capstone research seminar)
  • U.S. & the World, 20th Century (Junior research seminar)
  • Introduction to Historical Thinking
  • Introduction to U.S.-American History (15th through 21st centuries)
  • American Policies of International Humanitarianism (University of Chicago)
  • Yearlong Graduate Research (Thesis) Seminar
  • Ethics and U.S. Power in the World
  • U.S. in the World
  • Teaching Practicum

Abbreviated Publications

Book Chapter

“Humanitarian Diplomacy after World War II: The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration,” in Foreign Policy Breakthroughs: Cases in Successful Diplomacy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015)

“Humanitarian Politics and Governance: International Responses to World War II’s Civilian Toll,” in The Cambridge History of the Second World War, Volume Three, Total War: Economy, Society and Culture, Michael Geyer and Adam Tooze, eds., (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015)


Benevolent Empire: U.S. Power, Humanitarianism, and the World's Dispossessed (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, Oct. 2016)


Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network, Human Rights Quarterly  Vol. 35, No. 1 (February 2013): 246-249

Empire of Humanity: A History of Humanitarianism by Michael Barnett, Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 3 (August 2012): 914-916

Encyclopedia Article

“Algerians,” “Brazilians,” “Jordanians,” “Moroccans,” “Panamanians,” “Paraguayans,” all in Encyclopedia of Chicago, ed. James R. Grossman, Ann Durkin Keating, and Janice L. Reiff (University of Chicago Press, 2004).  Histories of Chicago-area immigrant and refugee communities in multiple award-winning book.


Department of History (Graduate Affairs ) Committee Member Type:Departmental Service BAD DATE -BAD DATE

Taft Research Center (Executive Board ) Committee Member Type:University/College Service BAD DATE -BAD DATE

Certificate: International Human Rights (Steering ) Committee Member Type:University/College Service BAD DATE -BAD DATE

Tolley Scholarship in International Human Rights (Scholarship Committee ) Committee Member Type:University/College Service BAD DATE -BAD DATE

Taft Research Center (Human Rights Research Group ) Committee Chair Type:University/College Service BAD DATE -BAD DATE

Department of History (Graduate Research Awards ) Committee Member Type:Departmental Service BAD DATE -BAD DATE

College Credit Plus Mentor Type:Community Service BAD DATE -BAD DATE

Courses Taught