Kelsey Zavelo – Thesis Distinction

Kelsey Zavelo was awarded “distinction” for her thesis entitled, “In Transition: The United States and South Africa, 1976-1977.” Using archival material from the United States and South Africa, Kelsey’s thesis challenges the prevailing account of the Carter administration’s policy toward apartheid South Africa, which depicts Carter as having developed an aggressive policy based on human rights before backtracking due to economic and strategic constraints. In line with the most recent scholarship, Kelsey argues that the Carter administration understood the constraints it faced in pressing the South African government to abolish apartheid and thus developed a flexible approach designed not to antagonize the intransigent regime. Furthermore, Kelsey reintroduces the South African side of the story to the historical scholarship (missing since the 1980s) and shows that the common account of Carter as having developed an aggressive policy that was both naive and dangerous was a narrative created and propagated by the South African government in an attempt to undercut the U.S. administration and promote its own interests during a critical juncture between the Cold War and decolonization in southern Africa.

Kelsey completed her thesis under the direction of Professor Nancy Mitchell.

Kelsey’s thesis was nominated for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Thesis Award. She graduated with her Master of Arts in History in 2015.

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