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Kathy Olmsted

Kathy  Olmsted

Professor and Department Chair

One Shields Avenue
Davis , Ca 95616
Office Phone: (530) 752-7764


  • Ph.D. in history, UC Davis, 1993
  • MA in history, UC Davis, 1988
  • BA in history with honors and distinction, Stanford University, 1985


Chair, history department, UC Davis, 2013-present
Professor of history, UC Davis, 2005-present
Associate professor of history, UC Davis, 2003-2005
Assistant professor of history, UC Davis, 2001-2003
Lecturer, UC Davis, 1993-2001

Research Interests

20th century U.S. cultural and political history

My research develops one of the central themes of twentieth-century U.S. history: the influence of anticommunism on American politics and policy.  My first book, Challenging the Secret Government, examined conservatives’ use of anticommunist rhetoric to undermine efforts to reform intelligence agencies in the 1970s; my second book, Red Spy Queen, analyzed how the spy scare of the 1940s enabled anticommunists to move the nation’s political discourse to the right.  My third book, Real Enemies, explored how conspiracy theories about the U.S. government, especially anticommunist conspiracy theories, have been used to enlarge the national security state. I've also co-edited a book on the history of the Central Intelligence Agency and published several journal articles and book chapters that highlight my overlapping areas of expertise: conspiracy theories, government secrecy, espionage, counterintelligence, and anticommunism.

Now I am examining the roots of this anticommunist impulse in the interwar period. My newest book, Right Out of California: The 1930s and the Big Business Roots of Modern Conservatism (The New Press, 2015), explores the conservative reaction to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Selected Publications


Right Out of California: The Big Business Roots of Modern Conservatism. The New Press, 2015.

Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Red Spy Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth Bentley. University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Challenging the Secret Government: The Post-Watergate Investigations of the CIA and FBI.  University of North Carolina Press, 1996.



The Central Intelligence Agency: Security Under Scrutiny. With Athan Theoharis, Richard Immerman, Loch Johnson, and John Prados, eds. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2006.


“Gerald Ford, Human Rights, and the CIA.” In A Companion to Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter,” ed. Scott Kaufman. Wiley-Blackwell, forthcoming December 2015.

“Bleeding Edge: New Deal Farm Labor Mediation in California and the Conservative Reaction.” Journal of Policy History, Fall 2014.

“The Truth Is Out There: Citizen Sleuths from the Kennedy Assassination to the 9/11 Truth Movement.” Diplomatic History 35:4 (September 2011), 671-693.

“Quelling Dissent: The Sacramento Conspiracy Trial and the Birth of the New Right.” Boom: A Journal of California, Summer 2011.

“The Truth about Spies.” Diplomatic History 35:1 (January 2011), 137-142.

“Government Secrecy and Conspiracy Theories.” In Government Secrecy: Research in Social Problems and Public Policy, ed. Susan Maret. Emerald Publishing, 2011, 91-102.

“Linus Pauling: A Case Study in Counterintelligence Run Amok,” in Loch Johnson, ed., Handbook on Intelligence Studies (London: Routledge, 2007), 269-278.

“Lapdog or Rogue Elephant? CIA Controversies from 1947 to 2004,” in Athan Theoharis, Richard Immerman, Loch Johnson, Kathryn Olmsted, and John Prados, eds., The Central Intelligence Agency: Security Under Scrutiny (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2006), 189-229.

“Blond Queens, Red Spiders, and Neurotic Old Maids: Gender and Espionage in the Early Cold War.” Intelligence and National Security 19:1 (Spring 2004), 78-94.

“Reclaiming Executive Power: The Ford Administration’s Response to the Intelligence Investigations.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 26:3 (Summer 1996): 725-37.

“‘An American Conspiracy’: The Post-Watergate Press and the CIA.” Journalism History, 19:2 (Summer 1993): 51-58.

Selected non-academic writing:

“A Very American Conspiracy Theory.” Foreign Policy online (January 2011),

“Why Americans love conspiracies”, 8/27/2010

‘We owe it to history to publish it’

“Lies about the Church committee”


Course History

History 174B: America in Prosperity, Depression, and War, 1914-1945; History 174C: America since 1945; History 17B: United States since 1865; History 174D: Politics and Paranoia: Conspiracy theories in 20th century America; History 188: America in the 1960s; History 189: California History; History 176B: Social and Cultural History of the Modern United States

Course flyer History 174D