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Meet the Fellows: 2016 Newcombe Fellow Allison Powers Useche

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This is one of a series of posts featuring Fellows from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation network.

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation is the nation’s largest and most prestigious award for Ph. D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences addressing questions of ethical and religious values. The 2016 class of Fellows includes Allison Powers Useche, a doctoral candidate in history at Columbia University. In the passage below, Ms. Powers Useche describes a mysterious encounter at a Mexico City archive that contributed to her understanding of relations between the United States and Latin America:

As a legal historian, I pay attention to the ways American power at home and abroad is expressed through the framework of law. Although my research deals with the history of US foreign relations, I rarely address the topic most often explored in films and novels of the genre: espionage. One morning when I was doing archival research in Mexico City, however, I confronted a curious source. There were multiple confidential US State Department memos, all written in Spanish. I was nearing the end of my research trip, after spending over a year piecing together the ways foreign nationals living in United States territories had used a series of Claims Commissions to argue that the American justice system violated international legal norms concerning the protection of life and property. At my final archive to examine Mexican government reactions to the proceedings of one such tribunal, you can imagine my surprise when several folders tagged under the keyword “US-Mexico Claims Commission” contained classified intelligence. These dispatches, all transmitted by “Agente 10-B,” turned out to be an important source for me, because they demonstrated just how high Mexican and United States government officials considered the stakes of this particular tribunal. When I asked the archivist if I could take a look at the Agent’s personal papers, however, she laughed. 10-B? No one knows who he—or she—was! The identity of a spy placed somewhere within the US State Department during the 1930s remains a mystery. My dissertation still focuses on the legal history of United States imperialism, and explains how residents of US annexed territories used international law to challenge the legitimacy of American expansion. But when asked to recount episodes of espionage in the history of US-Latin America relations, I no longer disappoint.

Ms. Powers Useche’s dissertation title is Settlement Colonialism: Law, Arbitration, and Compensation in United States Expansion, 1868–1940. For more information on the 2016 Newcombe Fellows and to see a list of their dissertation titles, click here.


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