Van Gosse, who worked as a disc jockey while also writing for such publications as the Village Voice and Melody Maker from 1979-84, earned a bachelor’s degree in history at Columbia University in 1983, and a Ph.D. in history at Rutgers University in 1992. He taught at Wellesley College (1991-92) and Trinity College (1994-95), and was an adjunct lecturer at George Mason University from 1996-97. Thereafter, Gosse was a fellow at the American Council of Learned Societies in 1998-99, and a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center during 2000-01. He has been a history professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania since 2001.
Early in his academic career, Gosse’s scholarship centered around post-World War II social movements in the United States. He authored or edited several books about the New Left—with what he described as “a particular focus on the movements ‘in solidarity’ with social change in Latin America, from the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s through the Central American wars of the 1980s.” Today Gosse’s teaching and scholarship focus on: (a) “American political development and the special role that the African American struggle for citizenship has played in our history,” and (b) “American culture and society in the Cold War era and since.” Moreover, Gosse has written extensively about “the question of Black Power—whether or not African Americans would ever be, or could ever be, ‘first-class citizens.’”
In 1992 Gosse was a national board member of the Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), a leftist organization established in America by prominent members of the Salvadoran Communist Party and Cuban intelligence in order to support El Salvador’s militant guerrillas. CISPES was also part of the Soviet-controlled World Peace Council, which sought to manipulate the opinions of Americans through protests and disinformation campaigns.
In July 1992 Gosse endorsed the national conference of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS), which was held at UC Berkeley. He was also a member of CCDS.
Gosse served as development director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas from 1992-93, and as its executive director from 1993-94.
In the mid-1990s Gosse was a contributing editor with the Oakland-based Institute for Social and Economic Studies, which sponsored CrossRoads magazine—a periodical that, according to KeyWiki.org, sought to “bring diverse Marxist and socialist traditions to bear while exploring new strategies and directions for the progressive political movements.”
From 1995-2000, Gosse was the organizing director of Peace Action (formerly SANE/Freeze).
In January 2003 Gosse co-founded Historians Against the War (HAW) at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. From the fall of 2002 through 2008, he served on the steering committee of United For Peace and Justice.
Since 2004, Gosse has helped direct the “F&M Votes” campaign, which he describes as “a joint student/staff/faculty effort” at Franklin & Marshall College that “seeks to both register and turn-out our entire student body on Election Day.”
In June 2005, Gosse identified “three criteria [necessary] for a successful movement to oppose U.S. foreign policy,” a policy which he viewed as aggressive, militaristic, and exploitative. Specifically, Gosse called for a movement that “constantly spreads into new geographic and demographic spaces (and sectors), so as to keep structures of power on the defensive”; “will manifest a multi-strategy and multi-tactics approach to swarm conventional structures of power and policy-making elites, never letting up and wearing them down, in the political equivalent of guerrilla warfare”; and “will focus on opportunities to connect to so-called ‘mainstream’ … legislative and electoral politics, since this is the arena where a movement must register its gains …”
In January 2007 Gosse derided President George W. Bush’s “fiercely militarist vision of total domination both internationally and here at home.” Given the unpopularity of Bush and the Iraq War at that time, Gosse saw what he described as “the greatest opportunity for [the development of] a true American Left in my lifetime.”
In 2009 Gosse was listed as a signer on the website of Progressives For Obama (later renamed Progressive America Rising). That same year, he co-founded the Post-Capitalist Project (PCP), a cooperative, nonsectarian alliance of leftist journals, popular education centers, and electronic media that promote a “transition beyond capitalism toward a socialist future.”
Over the years, Gosse has made clear his deep contempt for the state of Israel. He is a supporter of the Hamas-inspired Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. He is a signatory to a list of individuals endorsing the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI). And he has used his Twitter account to post many messages denouncing Israel and its policies.
Gosse was one of hundreds of “United States historians” to sign a July 31, 2014 open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama and the American Congress, condemning “the disproportionate harm that the Israeli military, which the United States has armed and supported for decades, is inflicting on the population of Gaza.” The letter was written in reaction to Operation Protective Edge, an Israeli military incursion designed to stop the barrage of deadly rockets that Gaza-based Hamas terrorists had been launching into Israel, and to destroy as much of Hamas’s infrastructure as possible (particularly its underground tunnels). Added the letter:
“We are profoundly disturbed that Israeli forces are killing and wounding so many Palestinian children. Desperate conditions in Gaza resulting from Israeli policies have made effective evacuation of war zones virtually impossible. We regard as unacceptable the failure of United States elected officials to hold Israel accountable for such acts. As we watch the death toll mount and observe the terror of the trapped inhabitants in Gaza, we call upon you to demand a cease-fire, the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, and a permanent end to the blockade so that its people can resume some semblance of normal life. We urge you to suspend U.S. military aid to Israel, until there is assurance that this aid will no longer be used for the commission of war crimes.”
According to Haaretz.com, Gosse was one of the AHA members who organized a January 2015 “roundtable discussion” of historians “critical of Israeli policy.”
In 2015 as well, Gosse was one of scores of American Historical Association members who signed a petition affirming that the AHA: “calls for the reversal of Israeli policies that restrict the [Palestinian] freedom of movement, including denial of entry to foreign nationals”; “calls for the cessation of [Israeli] physical attacks on Palestinian educational institutions”; and “commits itself to monitoring Israeli actions restricting the right to education in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” Gosse was a member of HAW’s Palestine-Israel Working Group, which first proposed the petition to the AHA.
In 2017, Gosse co-authored a letter to San Francisco State University (SFSU) president Leslie Wong in defense of SFSU professor Rabab Abdulhadi, a USACBI founding member who has repeatedly and publicly glorified Palestinian terrorists. The letter’s authors expressed their “concern over the treatment of Professor Rabab Abdul Hadi, an internationally recognized scholar, who has been attacked yet again by the right-wing Zionist organization.” “We view open criticism of Israeli policy to be critical to the educational process and deplore all attempts to close it down,” they added.
In a January 2018 article, Gosse opined that President Donald Trump was taking the United States in the direction of fascism, writing:
“For too long, progressive intellectuals have mocked conservatives as ‘know-nothings’ for their insistence that the U.S. is immune to history and can’t be compared to other countries because it is simply superior. And then along came Trump. It’s pretty obvious that the certainty ‘it could never happen here’ was foolish in hindsight. More than just admitting error, we need to face up to what history tells us is possible. It is thoroughly ‘exceptionalist’ to treat Trumpism as a temporary aberration, brought on by the peculiarities of the Electoral College and the Republican Party’s takeover by the organized right. There is no fundamental reason to insist the U.S. is immune from authoritarian government, whether outright fascism or a regime maintaining the technical forms of democracy (a legislature; formal elections; courts that issue sentences) while actively subverting democracy’s real content.”
In December 2019, Gosse wrote that he was “one of more than 1,500 historians who signed a letter urging the U.S. House of Representatives to impeach President Donald J. Trump.” He described Trump as “a vulgar, amoral con man” who: (a) aimed to “pervert the presidency for his own purposes”; (b) had “turned the White House into a fetid swamp of corruption”; and (c) was nothing more than “a criminal in our nation’s highest office.” Added Gosse:
“The House [of Representatives] has impeached the president on two specific grounds: coercing the government of Ukraine for his private purposes (to dig up dirt on the Biden family), and illegally obstructing Congress’ responsibility and authority to investigate wrongdoing. Like many historians, I think there is far more that warrants impeachment. Since he took office Trump has waged war on constitutional democracy. He has sought to undermine key institutions of government — the Department of Justice, the courts, Congress itself…. What Trump attempted this past summer [vis-a-vis Ukraine] was corruption of the worst possible sort: He corrupted all of us, the citizens he represents, by this venal manipulation. No government anywhere in the world will trust our word, our diplomatic guarantees, as long as he remains.”