Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)

Degree Level





Randall B. Woods

Committee Member

Alessandro Brogi

Second Committee Member

Liang Cai


Social sciences; Jimmy Carter; Christian pragmatism; Cold War; Human rights; Normalization; Sino-American relations


A Tangled Hope: America, China, and Human Rights at the End of the Cold War, 1976-2000, discusses the evolution of both the international and American understanding of human rights. Beginning with a discussion of the philosophical and cultural frameworks concerning "rights" that developed in Europe and the Americas throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, this work moves into the post-World War II climate that shaped Jimmy Carter and his unique understanding of human rights and America's role in the Cold War world. In particular, I argue that the existing narrative concerning Carter's foreign policy is lacking in a nuanced understanding of his beliefs and experiences and how he subsequently brought them to bear on his development and application of a moral foreign policy.

Jimmy Carter established a system of ethically rigid, yet pragmatically applied, human rights structures in diplomacy, allowing constructive engagement across the world, and especially with China. Contrary to existing scholarship, I argue that Carter developed a policy of moral pragmatism that allowed for flexible implementation of his human rights agenda across varied fronts. In the case of normalization between Beijing and Washington, I challenge the existing narrative on Carter's application of his human rights policies to Sino-American relations. While Betty Glad, Warren Cohen, Michael Hunt, and others have argued that human rights played little to no role in Sino-American relations during the 1970s, newly declassified documentation shows human rights were discussed at every step and ultimately were placed within Carter's understanding of the Cold War and Christian Pragmatism.