Ms Alexandra Penler

Ms Alexandra Penler

PhD Student

Department of International History

Key Expertise
Gender History, Cold War, Diplomatic History, Cultural and Social History

About me

Alex is a PhD candidate in the Department of International History. Her doctoral research studies the relationship between gender and public diplomacy in the Cold War, under the supervision of Dr. Imaobong Umoren and Prof Matthew Jones. Both her master’s and doctoral dissertations focused on the intersection of marriage, gender, and international relations. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame with honors in history and political science. While at Saint Mary’s, she researched mid-century women’s education, women’s health and foreign aid, and was a research intern at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History focusing on non-citizen voting, the women’s suffrage movement, and the ERA. She then was awarded a MSc in Empires, Colonialism, and Globalisation with distinction from the LSE before rejoining the department in 2018 for her PhD. She has been a visiting researcher at Georgetown University and received grants from Columbia University and LSE to complete her research.

More broadly, she’s interested in the history of global health, elitism in U.S. foreign policy in the twentieth century, international education, and cultural diplomacy, with a particular interest in the MENA region. She also is interested in the history of marriage and courtship, women’s education, and the role of public women in the twentieth century.

Alex has worked for the last seven years in U.S. public diplomacy and international development, including for the Fulbright Program and USAID projects. Previously, she interned at Unicef UK, on Capitol Hill, and at the U.S. Department of State. She attended the National Institute of American History and Democracy at the College of William and Mary.

Provisional Thesis Title

The Quiet Diplomats: American Diplomatic Wives and Public Diplomacy, 1945-1972

My research focuses on rethinking the definition of public diplomacy practitioners in the Cold War, by examining the lives and work of American diplomatic wives. Before public diplomacy programs were created post World War II, many wives were involved in local communities, representing the U.S. government in both official and unofficial activities, unpaid. This research examines their work and role of these women to evaluate their contribution to listening, educational and cultural exchange, as well global health and foreign aid. It also looks at their role as representatives of the U.S. government and of modern American women in the cultural Cold War.

Expertise Details

Gender History; Cold War History; Diplomatic History; Cultural and Social History

Honours, awards and scholarships

  • Cold War Archives Research Grant, Columbia University European Institute (May 2019)
  • Psi Sigma Alpha, National Political Science Honors Society
  • Phi Alpha Theta, Chapter Psi Lambda, National History Honors Society
  • LSE PhD Studentship (2018-2022)

Conference Papers

  • SHAFR Annual Conference 2021: Back in the Narrative” Uncovering Diplomatic Wives Work in the Postwar Period
  • ISA Annual Convention 2020: Public Diplomacy and Representational Entertaining, a Microstudy of American Diplomatic Wives, 1924-1950.
  • SHAFR Annual Conference 2020: Discreet Diplomats: How Diplomatic Wives’ Work Shaped U.S. Embassies and Public Diplomacy, 1945-1972