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.