Call her President Laura Belmonte.

The dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences will lead the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations starting Nov. 1.

“Serving as SHAFR’s president means a great deal to me on a professional and personal level,” said Belmonte, an expert on the history of global relations. “I’ve forged lifelong connections with colleagues around the world through this outstanding organization, and I look forward to continuing our mission. I’m grateful to know some of my closest professional peers placed their confidence in me as a leader.”

Founded in 1967, SHAFR promotes the history of American foreign relations by sponsoring research, conferences, and publications for historians worldwide.

The organization provides resources for its members around the world. An annual summer institute provides professional experience for graduate students through an intensive seminar with faculty and guest speakers. Faculty members can learn how to market themselves for both academic and non-academic jobs thanks to SHAFR’s professional development initiatives.

Belmonte, a leading historian of global relations, joined SHAFR in the early 90s. She most recently served as vice president and has contributed to the growth of the American foreign relations discipline.

Questions of hard power, military, economic, and political power informed diplomatic history when SHAFR first launched, Belmonte said. Now the vibrant discipline focuses on a wider range of issues, such as environmental history and treaties governing humanity’s interactions with other species.

The organization has also excelled in diversifying within its ranks, Belmonte said.

“When I first started going to meetings, you could fit the number of women inside an elevator,” said Belmonte. “Since then, we’ve not only increased the number of women in the organization, but we’ve also elected women to serve as president. This year’s slate of successful candidates was entirely female, quite a testament to how we have collectively embraced diversity.”

Like many organizations, SHAFR has faced challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. But Belmonte said the leadership team found silver linings. After conducting its annual meeting virtually last year, the organization plans to preserve virtual components to connect with a broader audience.

“We’re planning to continue allowing virtual access to some of the keynote addresses. We’ll also add all-virtual sessions before the conference at a lower cost,” said Belmonte. “This way, if you’re someone who is unable to travel, you can still benefit from observing scholarship presentations and presenting your own scholarship.”

Belmonte said helping scholars clear professional hurdles represents another major organizational charge.

“We have colleagues who fall on hard times, often dealing with budget cuts and relying more on contingent faculty,” she said. “These are some of the challenges we face at this juncture, and we are truly fortunate to be able to offer robust resources in response. For us to have the financial ability to help early-career faculty and graduate students, it’s remarkable in this day and age.”

Belmonte has connected with talented faculty around the world through her commitment to SHAFR. Major news outlets and government agencies often rely on the expertise of members to better understand current events.

Amanda Demmer, an assistant professor in the Virginia Tech Department of History, serves as an example, Belmonte said.

A SHAFR member, Demmer is an expert on the history of refugees during the Vietnam War. The Washington Post, CBS News, and other major news organizations recently sought Demmer’s guidance following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as the displacement of Afghan citizens.

“Our faculty members are frequently called upon to share their insights on some of the most important issues of our time,” said Belmonte.

A leading historian of the United States and foreign relations, Belmonte has also answered the call to share her wisdom with news and government agencies. She served for 10 years on the U.S. Department of State’s Advisory Committee for Historical Diplomatic Documentation. Last year, she testified before U.S. Congress on the separation of powers.

Laura Belmonte Giving Testimony
In March 2020, Dean Laura Belmonte testified before the U.S. House Committee on Rules. Photo by Erin Williams for Virginia Tech.

In addition to her current role as vice president of SHAFR, Belmonte has previously served as a member of the organization’s nominating committee, its national council, and the editorial board of its official journal, Diplomatic History.

Belmonte has published extensively on American foreign relations and international history. Her most recent book, “The International LGBT Rights Movement: A History,” was published in 2020.

Belmonte will serve a one-year term as president of SHAFR.

Written by Andrew Adkins