History Department
History Department

Aaron B. O'Connell

Associate ProfessorPh.D., History, 2009, Yale University

Aaron B. O'Connell


  • Phone: 512-232-6401
  • Office: GAR 3.224
  • Office Hours: Fall 2018: On Leave - by appointment only
  • Campus Mail Code: B7000


Aaron O'Connell joined the faculty of UT Austin from Washington D.C., where he served in the Obama Administration as Director for Defense Policy & Strategy on the National Security Council. Prior to working in the White House, Dr. O’Connell taught military history at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where he was named the Admiral Jay Johnson Professor in Leadership in Ethics in 2015. In addition to his academic career, Dr. O’Connell is also a Colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, and in that capacity, he has served as a Special Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a Special Advisor to the Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, and a Special Assistant to General David Petraeus in Afghanistan.  Dr. O’Connell holds a B.A. from Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut, an M.A. in American Literature from Indiana University, an M.A. in American Studies from Yale University, and a Ph.D. in American History from Yale University in 2009.  When not reading or writing, he spends far too much time practicing the guitar.

Scholarly Interests

Dr. O’Connell’s scholarly interests span four inter-related fields: 20th century military history, U.S. foreign affairs, cultural history, and American politics.  His scholarly publications focus on understanding the effects of U.S. military influence and infrastructure inside and outside the United States. His public history pieces mostly concern how the U.S. military affects contemporary domestic and political culture. He teaches courses in military history, U.S. foreign policy, U.S. military culture, and the U.S.’s role in the world since 1898.

Publications and Appearances

Dr. O’Connell is the author of Underdogs: The Making of the Modern Marine Corps, which explores how the Marine Corps rose from relative unpopularity to become the most prestigious armed service in the United States.  He is also the editor of Our Latest Longest War: Losing Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan, which is a critical account of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan since 2001. He has also authored a number of articles and book chapters on military affairs and U.S. military culture. He has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and PBS’s NewsHour Weekend and his commentary has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, Slate, The Daily Beast, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Courses Taught
  • War and Violence in American History
  • The United States and the Second World War
  • Imagining War in the 20th Century


HIS 392 • Readings In War And Violence I

39245 • Spring 2019
Meets T 3:30PM-6:30PM GAR 2.124

This course offers an introduction to U.S. military history for graduate students.  While we will give significant attention to wars and battlefield operations, readings will also explore the many ways U.S. military influence and infrastructure have affected U.S. foreign policy, the U.S. economy, American culture, social movements, and American social life, primarily in the 20th century.  Thematic topics to be explored in the monographs (one per week) include the role of violence in foreign policy, gender studies, war and memory, technology and modernity, militarism and militarization, the family lives of soldiers, and the institutional histories of the U.S. Armed Forces.  

In addition to weekly monographs, we will also do a slow and close reading of a major survey of American military history since 1776 to give those who are unfamiliar with military affairs a basic primer in the major actions, wars, terminology, and concepts in the history of the U.S. military.

Recommended for students interested in 19th & 20th C. U.S. foreign policy, theories of violence, U.S. borderlands, and theories of state formation.
Provisionally-Selected Texts (some subject to change):
Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America (New York: Free Press, 1994).

John Ellis, The Social History of the Machine Gun (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1986)
Paul A. Kramer, The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, The United States & the Philippines (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2006)
Mary Renda: Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2001)
Phillip K. Lawrence, Modernity and War: The Creed of Absolute Violence (London: MacMillan Press, 1997)
Michael J. Allen, Until the Last Man Comes Home: POWs, MIAs, and the Unending Vietnam War (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2012)
Gretchen Heefner, The Missile Next Door: The Minuteman in the American Heartland (Harvard University Press, 2012)
Major Paper: 50%
Book Reviews: 15%
In-class presentations: 15%
Annotated Bibliography: 20%

HIS 376F • The Us And Second World War

39240 • Spring 2018
Meets WF 3:30PM-5:00PM CLA 2.606

This course fulfills part of the requirements for the Normandy Scholars Program as well as part of the American history requirement for the University.  Among the topics covered are: the causes of the War in the European and Pacific theaters; isolationism and the controversies over American entry into the war; the rise of air power and technological developments in the war; the conduct of the war; everyday life and politics on the home front; the experience of battle; the use of the atomic bomb; the seeds of the Cold War; and conflicting visions of the postwar world. Class work consists of lectures and discussions of weekly reading assignments.  

Curriculum Vitae

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