informal portrait of Clayton Koppes
  • Interim President
  • Professor of History


  • Bachelor of Arts, Bethel College Kansas, 1967
  • Master of Arts, Emory University, 1968
  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Kansas, 1974


I’m a historian of the United States from the Civil War to the present.  My particular interests are political history (including foreign policy), along with social and cultural history.  My rotation of courses includes:  U.S. from 1877 to the present, Roosevelt to Reagan, US(SR):  Comparative Cold Wars, American Movie Censorship from the 1890s to the present, and LGBTQ history in the U.S.

My principal scholarly project is a book on American movie censorship from the 1890s to 1968 (when the ratings system supplanted the patchwork of censorship agencies).  My book is tentatively titled “Desire Under the Code:  How Censorship Shaped Classical Hollywood.”  I challenge conventional ideas that censorship was simply a repressive force in American cinema and argue that censorship played a key role in creating a distinctive Hollywood aesthetic.  The book expands on my earlier book (coauthored with Gregory D. Black), Hollywood Goes to War:  How Politics, Profits, and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies, published in 1987 and still in print.  I am a frequent reviewer for Cineaste.

My other recent scholarly projects have focused on the Cold War, race, and culture.  In 2013 I published “Solving for X:  Kennan, Containment, and the Cold War,” an extended review essay of John Gaddis’s biography of the leading Cold War diplomat George F. Kennan.  In 2014 I will publish “Beyond Containment:  George F. Kennan and ‘the Various Non-WASPS,” an analysis of Kennan’s hierarchical views of non-whites and non-Christians and how those attitudes affected his policy guidance.  Continuing my scholarship about the Cold War, I have a forthcoming essay, “The Real Ambassadors:  The Cleveland Orchestra tours the Soviet Union, 1965.”

My teaching and scholarly interests have included environmental history and the history of technology. Soon after I began teaching at Oberlin in 1978, I introduced the first environmental history course at the college and was a founding member of the Environmental Studies Program. (I served as president of the American Society for Environmental History in 1985-86.) I came to Oberlin from the California Institute of Technology, where I served as a senior research fellow in history, and wrote JPL: A History of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Yale University Press, 1982), which won the Dexter Prize from the Society for the History of Technology.

From 1996 to 2005 I served in various administrative positions at Oberlin, including Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Provost, and in 2000, Acting President. As chief academic officer I was able to add fourteen faculty positions, promote diversity in faculty hiring, helped launch new programs in Comparative American Studies and Cinema Studies, establish the first offerings in Middle Eastern and North African Studies, and initiate planning for the Academic Commons in Mudd Library. In 2000 I orchestrated the college’s role in helping save the Allen Memorial Hospital from imminent closure. My national service included membership on the Academic Advisory Board of the National Institute for Technology in the Liberal Arts (a Mellon Foundation initiative), the Executive Committee of the American Council for Academic Deans, and the Executive Committee of the Consortium for a Strong Minority Presence in Liberal Arts Colleges.

In 2007, my late partner, William Norris, a former sociology professor at Oberlin, and I were honored to stand among the first recipients of the Oberlin Lambda Alumni’s Q Awards for service to the Oberlin College gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.


  • Clayton Koppes Presents Paper

    June 25, 2015

    Clayton Koppes, professor of history, delivered a paper at the International Association for History and Media conference at Indiana University, Bloomington, on June 18. The paper was titled "What's New Is Old: North Atlantic Movie Censorship in Its Formative Years."