Sam Lebovic

Sam Lebovic

Sam Lebovic


20th century culture and politics; democracy; constitutional history; civil liberties; foreign relations; national security; political institutions and political economy; media history; cultural globalization.

Sam Lebovic is an historian of U.S. politics, culture, civil liberties, and foreign relations. He teaches broadly in these areas; his research focuses on the ways that democratic life and the public sphere have been shaped by capitalism and imperialism in the twentieth century. Educated at the University of Sydney and the University of Chicago, he held postdoctoral fellowships at NYU and Rutgers before coming to Mason in 2013.

His first book, Free Speech and Unfree News (Harvard, 2016), provided a new account of American press freedom in the twentieth century.  It argued that the right to free speech was inadequate to produce a democratic press in an era defined by corporate media consolidation and the rise of state secrecy.  Free Speech and Unfree News won the Paul Murphy Prize in Civil Liberties from the American Society for Legal History and the Ellis Hawley Prize from the Organization of American Historians (for best book on the history of politics or political economy). You can see a lecture based on this book here.

His second book, A Righteous Smokescreen: Postwar America and the Politics of Cultural Globalization, was published by the University of Chicago Press in May 2022. Focusing on efforts to manage the international flow of culture from the 1940s to the 1970s – educational exchange programs, international cultural institutions, visa and passport policies – it shows how the U.S. sought to export its culture at the same time that it insulated its own public sphere from foreign influence. The result, the book reveals, was a lopsided flow of international culture: the world knew more about American culture than Americans knew about the world.  Understanding the contradictory structures of postwar informational flows, the book shows, helps us rethink the histories of U.S. culture, foreign policy, and globalization.

His third book, State of Silence: The Espionage Act and the Rise of America's Secrecy Regime, will be published by Basic Books in November 2023.  It is the first narrative history of this controversial law, which has been used not only to punish spies, but also to prosecute dissidents during World War 1 and leakers of classified information today (plus a certain ex-president).  Tracing the surprising evolution of this confusing law over more than a century, the book reveals the dangers that the Espionage Act has posed, and continues to pose, to American democracy.

Lebovic’s essays and articles on media, politics, and history have been published in a number of leading scholarly journals and edited collections, as well as such places as Dissent, The Boston Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Boston Globe, Columbia Journalism Review, and Politico. 

Lebovic currently serves as Co-Editor of the Journal of Social History. In this role he has edited special issues focused on the history of neoliberalism (2019) and the history of the security state (2023).

Current Research

Lebovic will spend 2023-2024 as a visiting research fellow at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, where he will be exploring the law and politics of public employee speech.

Selected Publications


State of Silence: The Espionage Act and the Rise of America's Secrecy Regime (Basic Books, 2023)

A Righteous Smokescreen: Postwar America and the Politics of Cultural Globalization (University of Chicago Press, 2022)

Free Speech and Unfree News: The Paradox of Press Freedom in America (Harvard University Press, 2016)

Awarded 2017 Ellis W. Hawley Prize by the Organization of American Historians (for best book on the political economy, politics, or institutions of the U.S. from the Civil War to the present)

Awarded 2012 Paul Murphy Prize in the History of Civil Liberties by the American Society for Legal History (in support of book completion)


"Introduction: Social Histories of the Security State," Journal of Social History, 56, no.3 (Spring 2023): 521-532

"Fake News, Lies and Other Familiar Problems," Knight First Amendment Institute, November 2022

“The Conservative Press and the Interwar Origins of First Amendment Lochnerism,” Law and History Review 39, no.3 (August 2021): 539-567

“The Politics of Pluralism: Debating Media Diversity in Australia, c.1976,” Australian Historical Studies 51, no.4 (October 2020): 401-419

“No Right to Leave the Nation: The Politics of Passport Denial and the Rise of the National Security State,” Studies in American Political Development 34, no.1 (April 2020): 170-193


Expanded Publication List

“From Censorship to Classification: The Evolution of the Espionage Act,” in Whistleblowing Nation: The History of National Security Disclosures and the Cult of State Secrecy eds. Kaeten Mistry and Hannah Gurman (Columbia University Press, 2020)

“Leaking about Donald Trump in the Age of Fake News,” in Chaos in the Liberal Order: The Trump Presidency and International Politics in the Twenty-First Century eds. Robert Jervis, Francis J. Gavin, Joshua Rovner and Diane Labrosse (Columbia University Press, 2018)

“How Administrative Opposition Shaped Freedom of Information,” in Troubling Transparency: The Freedom of Information Act and Beyond eds. David Pozen and Michael Schudson (Columbia University Press, 2018)

“When the ‘Mainstream Media’ was Conservative: Media Criticism in the Age of Reform,” in Media Nation: The Political History of News in Modern America, ed. Bruce J. Schulman and Julian Zelizer (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017)

“Here, There, and Everywhere': The Beatles, America, and Cultural Globalization, 1964-1968,” Journal of American Studies, January 2017

“Limited War in the Age of Total Media” in Understanding the U.S. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ed. Beth Bailey and Richard Immerman (NYU Press, 2015)

“‘A Breath from Home’: Soldier Entertainment and the Nationalist Politics of Pop Culture During World War II,” Journal of Social History, December 2013

“From War Junk to Educational Exchange: The WWII Origins of the Fulbright Program and the Foundations of American Cultural Globalism, 1945-1950,” Diplomatic History, April 2013

Grants and Fellowships

Lebovic has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute for Citizens and Scholars, the George Mason Center for Humanities Research, the National Library of Australia, the LMU-Munich Center for Global History, the Center for Cultural Analysis at Rutgers University, the Frederic Ewen Academic Freedom Center at NYU, and the Truman Institute.

Courses Taught

Graduate: Cultural Globalization, History of the U.S. State, Global Migrations, American Internationalism, U.S. National Security State, American Democracy, U.S. and the Pacific World.

Undergraduate: History of the American Media, The U.S. and World Power, Cold War America, Introduction to World History.