Dr Alex Ferguson
BA (Southampton), MA (Southampton), PhD (Southampton)
Department of History
Teaching Associate in 20th Century US History
Full contact details
Department of History
1 Upper Hanover Street
I joined the Department of History in 2020.
I completed my BA, MA and PhD degrees at the University of Southampton, staying on at that institution to work as a Teaching Fellow in Modern American History for three years.
I research and teach the history of the United States, focusing on U.S. foreign policy in the post-war era. I hold a particular interest in the Vietnam War, Cold War alliances, public diplomacy, and the U.S. search for Cold War collaborators in the Global South.
My research has been supported by grants from Historians of the Twentieth Century United States, the Institute of Historical Research, the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, the British Association of American Studies, and the Royal Historical Society.
- Research interests
My current book project, entitled Americans in Saigon: The Franco-American Alliance and the First Indochina War, provides a new history of the fragile and turbulent Franco-American relationship at the centre of U.S. efforts to prevent a communist takeover in Vietnam during the early 1950s. While existing scholarship tends to focus on high-level Franco-American exchanges, this book adopts an ‘on the ground’ perspective. It focuses on the interactions that took place between French representatives and a diverse cast of Americans – from idealistic aid workers to ambitious visiting politicians to grizzled war reporters to dutiful diplomatic spouses – in the cafes, press rooms, cocktail bars, and diplomatic residences of the Vietnamese city of Saigon. The book demonstrates that the Franco-American alliance was more than just a strategic entente forged by senior policymakers in response to shared geopolitical goals, as scholars have tended to describe it; it was also an alliance which waxed and waned in response to the words, actions, and behaviours of Americans at the local level. The book deepens scholarly understanding of the internal tensions that defined and inhibited alliances within Cold War blocs and the place of postcolonial cities as sites of collision between different Western conceptions of empire, war making, and state building.
I have also begun work on a new project on the U.S. alliance with Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem, the man whom the United States hitched their hopes of creating an anti-communist bulwark in South Vietnam on between 1954 and 1963. The first output from this research is an article that I have recently had accepted for publication by the Journal of Cold War Studies. The piece, entitled 'Reassessing U.S. Involvement in Ngo Dinh Diem's Appointment', draws on newly available sources to reassess the oft repeated claim that the United States engineered Diem’s appointment as Vietnamese prime minister. This article reveals that Diem’s ascent to high office relied as much on his ability to bypass U.S. covert machinations as it did his capacity to capitalise on his American connections. While the contacts that Diem formed with influential Americans were a factor in his appointment, I show that Washington’s most important contribution to Diem’s rise to power came not from the decision to intervene on Diem’s behalf but on the choice not to back a covert plan to install a rival Vietnamese candidate, Nguyen Huu Tri, in power. In emphasising the importance of U.S. inaction to Diem’s appointment, the article contributes to broader debates about the limits of American power in the early Cold War and the legitimacy of the South Vietnamese state.
The second output from this research, a new book project provisionally entitled The Analogous Alliance: The United States, Ngo Dinh Diem, and the Struggle for Vietnam, 1954-1963, investigates how historical and contemporary analogies emerged as a lingua franca through which Americans debated and determined Ngo Dinh Diem’s suitability as their chief ally in Vietnam. Americans used Syngman Rhee, Winston Churchill, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, George Washington, and several other former and current world leaders as barometers to assess whether Diem had the right characteristics to forge a strong South Vietnam capable of keeping communist forces at bay.
- Press Management and U.S. Support for France in Indochina, 1950–1954. Diplomatic History, 42(2), 228-253.
- 'Reassessing U.S. involvement in the Appointment of Ngo Dinh Diem: Nguyen Huu Tri and the American Search for a Third Force in Vietnam, 1950-1954'. Journal of Cold War Studies.
- The US Embassy in Saigon and the Dien Bien Phu crisis, 1954, Embassies in Crisis (pp. 164-181). Routledge
- Frain Cain, America’s Vietnam War and its French Connection (New York; London: Routledge, 2017). Pacific Affairs, 93(1).
- A Cold War Tourist and His Camera. 49th Parallel : an Interdisciplinary Journal of North America, 26.
- Radio Free Europe’s “Crusade for Freedom”: Rallying Americans Behind Cold War Broadcasting, 1950-1960. Journal of American Studies, 45(2), 399-399.
- H-Diplo Roundtable Review of David Prentice, Unwilling to Quit: The Long Unwinding of American Involvement in Vietnam. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2023.. H-Diplo.
- Teaching activities
HST120 – History Workshop
HST11022 – Land of Liberty? Rights in the USA, 1776-2016
HST297 – The History of American Foreign Relations
HST31018 – The United States and the Cold War, 1945-75
HST61009/10 – The United States and the Global Cold War
- Professional activities and memberships
Historians of the Twentieth Century United States – Member
British Association of American Studies – Member
British International History Group - Member