Theo Zenou

PhD candidate in History

I grew up in Paris, France, the son of Moroccan and Algerian immigrants. Before Cambridge, I studied in London and Edinburgh.

I've worked in TV, researching and developing programmes.

Professor Andrew Preston is my doctoral supervisor.

Research Interests

  • 20th-century United States
  • Leadership, political strategy and communications
  • Cold War, especially in an 'intermestic' context
  • Social movements
  • Applied history and counterfactuals

Thesis title: 'John F. Kennedy and the Summer of Peace, 1963'

Supervisor: Professor Andrew Preston

Advisor: Professor Gary Gerstle

In the summer of 1963, the world's two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, signed a treaty that prohibited most nuclear testing. It was a momentous occasion, nothing short of the first arms control agreement of the nuclear age.

The American president, John F. Kennedy, was pleased. But he wasn't ready to celebrate just yet. Signing the treaty was only half the story.

To come into effect, the treaty first had to be ratified by a recalcitrant US Senate. Kennedy said that would take 'a miracle'... but vowed to try.

My PhD examines Kennedy's efforts to get the treaty ratified, and considers their significance in the trajectory (and contingency) of the Cold War.

'The Vital Consensus', American History Workshop, University of Cambridge, 8 February 2022

Commentator, American History Workshop, University of Cambridge, 9 November 2021

Commentator, American History Workshop, University of Cambridge, 24 November 2020

'JFK and the Campaign to Ratify the Test Ban Treaty', American History Workshop, University of Cambridge, 5 May 2020

'JFK's Last Stand', History Faculty, University of Cambridge, 12 February 2020

'Franklin Over the White House: The Messianic Presidency of Franklin Roosevelt', HOTCUS Annual Conference, Madingley Hall, 15 June 2018

'"Make 'Em Feel the Heat": How Ronald Reagan Connected with the People', Postgraduate Conference of the Glasgow College of Arts, University of Glasgow, 29 May 2018

I supervise undergraduates in 'US History from 1865' (Part I, Paper 24)


Tags & Themes




'American Messiahs: The Narrative Strategies of FDR and Reagan, 1933 and 1981', European Journal of American Studies, 15-2 (Summer 2020), DOI:

Review of Historian in Chief: How Presidents Interpret the Past to Shape the Future by Seth Cotlar and Richard J. Ellis (eds), Journal of American Studies, Vol 54, Special Issue 3, pp 630-631 (July 2020)

'Review Essay: A President for Trying Times', History: The Journal of the Historical Association, Vol 104, No 362, pp 805-810 (October 2019)

Review of Einstein and Twentieth-Century Politics: 'A Salutary Moral Influence' by Richard Crockatt, History: The Journal of the Historical Association, Vol 104, No 362, pp 810-812 (October 2019)

Review of Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing by Robert Caro, Reviews in History, No 2328 (August 2019)

'Harold Macmillan and the Audacity of Balance', Centre for the Study of Modern and Contemporary History at the University of Edinburgh, 7 November 2017


'Millennia Before UFC, There Was The Brutal Olympic Sport of Pankration', The Washington Post, 9 February 2022

'From Russia with Loathing', Literary Review, Issue 504, p 28, February 2022

'An Artist of Life', The Times Literary Supplement, No 6194, p 17, 17 December 2021

'High Resolution', The Spectator, Vol 347, No 10084, pp 48-49, 4 December 2021

'Josephine Baker Becomes the First Black Woman Inducted Into France's Pantheon', The Washington Post, 30 November 2021

'The Swiss Psychiatrist Who Inspired a Viral TikTok Hashtag', The Washington Post, 27 November 2021

​​​​​​'JFK's Secret Weapon in the Cold War: James Bond', The Washington Post, 9 October 2021 (included in Politico Playbook, 10 October 2021; translated into Vietnamese and republished in VNExpress, 12 October 2021; mentioned in Quotidiano Nazionale, 2 November 2021; and quoted in The Times, 13 November 2021)

'The Shock Jock of Literature is Back', The Times, No 73508, Saturday Review supplement, p 18, 26 June 2021 (republished in Air Mail, 14 July 2021)

'Napoleon Dynamite', The Spectator, Vol 346, No 10053, pp 42-43, 1 May 2021

'"The Trial of the Chicago 7" is the Film to Help Us Understand 2021', The Washington Post, 1 March 2021 (co-written with Professor John Beckman)

'JFK's Warning to the Republic', History Today, 8 February 2021 (translated into Albanian and republished in StraTirana, 17 February 2021)

'Trump Hyped Space Force. But It Could Really Boost Biden's Agenda', The Washington Post, 4 December 2020 (included in Yahoo News 360, 7 February 2021)

'In the Eye of the Voter', History Today, Vol 70, Issue 16, pp 100-101, June 2020

'Can We Learn from Covid-19 like JFK did from the Cuban Missile Crisis?', The Washington Post, 24 April 2020

'Merchants of Hate: The Dreyfus Affair Revisited', LA Review of Books, 2 January 2020

'And Unto Dust We Shall Return: On Scorsese's "The Irishman"', Cinephilia & Beyond, 14 December 2019

'Longing for Freedom in Morocco: A Conversation with Nabil Ayouch', Africa is a Country, 27 March 2019

'"The Last of the Old World" – Evaluating the Legacy of President George H.W. Bush', New Statesman, 1 December 2018

'Secret Weapon: Meet the Comedian Who Writes Jokes for Trump', New Statesman, 13 June 2018 (republished in The Australian Financial Review, 19 July 2018)

'Bobby Kennedy is the Greatest President America Never Had', New Statesman, 6 June 2018