Amy C. Offner

Twentieth-century US and Latin America, transnational history, capitalism and political economy, empire and foreign relations
Assistant Professor of History
College Hall 313
Office Hours: 
Tuesday, 1:00PM-4:00PM
offner@sas.upenn.edu
215.746.4893

Amy C. Offner (Ph.D. Columbia University) studies twentieth-century US history in global perspective, with special focus on Latin America.  Her research and teaching address the history of capitalism and political economy, empire and foreign relations, and social and intellectual history.

Her first book, Sorting Out the Mixed Economy: The Rise and Fall of Welfare and Developmental States in the Americas, will be published by Princeton University Press in September 2019.  The book argues that many of the tools that took apart midcentury welfare and developmental states came, ironically enough, from the repertoire of midcentury statebuilding itself.  Sorting Out the Mixed Economy takes readers through half a century of US and Colombian history, offering a transnational history of state formation and capitalist reconstruction since 1945.  In the process, it shows the influence of Latin American developmentalism on the formation of the US welfare state and reveals the midcentury origins of practices that are regarded today as hallmarks of neoliberalism, including austere systems of social welfare provision, changing systems of state decentralization, and novel forms of for-profit and private delegation. Capitalism in the late twentieth century, the book suggests, was not built in simple reaction against midcentury political economy; it was a parasitic formation that appropriated and redeployed key elements of the very order it destroyed.

Offner’s second book project, The Disappearing Worker, turns from the study of state formation and economic thought to labor and legal history.  It travels across the postwar world to offer a transnational history of the unraveling of the employment relationship: the rise of contract and contingent labor and the rise of new forms of ownership and investment that distanced the owners of capital from the claims of workers.  The book connects the fate of US workers to those overseas by situating both within multinational corporations that transported lessons and practices across world regions. It argues that during the years after 1945, conflicts in the Third World propelled processes of corporate restructuring that rippled across the globe.  In the early postwar decades, US corporations found new opportunities for profit in African, Asian, and Latin American development programs but struggled with the political, social, and legal liabilities of owning property and managing workers in an age of social upheaval.  Postcolonial Africa and Latin America in particular became sites where US multinationals pioneered new strategies of corporate restructuring that allowed them to accumulate capital without employing workers or holding majority ownership of productive facilities.  The book explores ways that multinationals transposed lessons about labor management learned in the midcentury Third World to the United States, Canada, and Australia after the 1960s.

Offner has been a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for the United States and the Cold War within NYU’s Tamiment Library, and has received fellowships and grants from institutions including the American Council of Learned Societies, the Social Science Research Council, the Charles Warren Center for American History at Harvard University, the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Inter-American Foundation, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, Baker Library at Harvard Business School, and the Duke University Center for the History of Political Economy.  Before beginning graduate studies, she worked as a union organizer and an editor at Dollars & Sense, a magazine and book publisher analyzing economic affairs.  In 2008, she worked for the Landmine Survivor Network in Bogotá, Colombia.

Offner has served on a dozen doctoral committees at the University of Pennsylvania and has been an external reader for MA and PhD theses in the United States and Colombia.  She welcomes inquiries from prospective graduate students, but applicants to Penn should be aware that their primary advisor must be a tenured faculty member.

Courses Taught: 
  • HIST 174 Capitalism, Socialism, and Crisis in the Twentieth-Century Americas
  • HIST 451 The United States and the World Since 1898
  • HIST 255.401 How to Rule an Empire
  • HIST 216.301 Thinking about Capitalism: A Social and Global History of Ideas
  • HIST 670.301 Thinking about the Economy: A Social and Global History of Ideas