Brendan Goff, "Rotary International and the Selling of American Capitalism" (Harvard UP, 2021)


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In Rotary International and the Selling of American Capitalism (Harvard University Press, 2021), Professor Brendan Goff traces the history of Rotary International from its origins in Chicago in 1905 to its rapid growth during the first four decades of the twentieth century. In doing so, Goff places U.S. power at the center of his analysis. He argues that Rotary International was able to succeed where Wilsonian internationalism was not by strategically distancing itself from the state. Rotarians advanced their own “civic internationalism” that emphasized the organization’s non-profit status, identify as a non-governmental organization, and commitment to the community-minded principle of “service above self.” This version of internationalism, and the rhetoric that supported it, allowed Rotary International to deflect criticisms of mere boosterism or intervention by other means. Goff’s nuanced and critical analysis of Rotary International’s history provides a new way of thinking about the role of U.S. cities in the expansion of U.S capital and consumer culture abroad, the many inflections of interwar internationalism, and the use of racialized power in creating and structuring connections between businesspeople in the United States and the rest of the world.

Steven P. Rodriguez is a PhD Candidate in history at Vanderbilt University. You can reach him at and follow his twitter at @SPatrickRod.

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