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Rethinking American History in a Global Age

Rethinking American History in a Global Age

EDITED BY Thomas Bender
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 436
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  • Book Info
    Rethinking American History in a Global Age
    Book Description:

    In rethinking and reframing the American national narrative in a wider context, the contributors to this volume ask questions about both nationalism and the discipline of history itself. The essays offer fresh ways of thinking about the traditional themes and periods of American history. By locating the study of American history in a transnational context, they examine the history of nation-making and the relation of the United States to other nations and to transnational developments. What is now calledglobalizationis here placed in a historical context. A cast of distinguished historians from the United States and abroad examines the historiographical implications of such a reframing and offers alternative interpretations of large questions of American history ranging from the era of European contact to democracy and reform, from environmental and economic development and migration experiences to issues of nationalism and identity. But the largest issue explored is basic to all histories: How does one understand, teach, and write a national history even as one recognizes that the territorial boundaries do not fully contain that history and that within that bounded territory the society is highly differentiated, marked by multiple solidarities and identities?Rethinking American History in a Global Ageadvances an emerging but important conversation marked by divergent voices, many of which are represented here. The various essays explore big concepts and offer historical narratives that enrich the content and context of American history. The aim is to provide a history that more accurately reflects the dimensions of American experience and better connects the past with contemporary concerns for American identity, structures of power, and world presence.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93603-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-ix)
    Thomas Bender
  4. INTRODUCTION. Historians, the Nation, and the Plenitude of Narratives
    (pp. 1-22)
    Thomas Bender

    Lived history is embedded in a plenitude of narratives. Those narratives come in all sizes, shapes, and degrees of social and political consequence. Historiography necessarily reduces them, emphasizing those that seem more important, those that speak to us, while ignoring or marginalizing—and rightly so—the greater number of them. Of course, over time, different themes or concepts, different narratives, will be deemed significant and emphasized. These privileged narratives, at least on the scale that concerns me here, are in a vital way the product of a quite serious conversation between the historical experience of the present and the histories...


    • ONE Transnationalism and the Challenge to National Histories
      (pp. 25-46)
      Prasenjit Duara

      Speakinggrosso modo,linear history was from the late nineteenth century until recently intimately identified with the nation in a process of mutual formation. Naturalizing the nation-state as the skin that contains the experience of the past has made history the major means of national identity formation. To be sure there have been many historians, such as Toynbee and Spengler, whose vision has risen above the nation. In the twentieth century, Marxists and historians of theAnnalesschool, among others, have provided exceptions to this historiographical mode. But these historians have rarely attended to the myriad subtle ties between linear...

    • TWO Internationalizing International History
      (pp. 47-62)
      Akira Iriye

      That the study of the history of international relations must be internationalized may sound tautological. After all, international relations by definition deals with affairs among a plurality of nations; it would therefore make little sense to study the subject in the framework of just one nation. And yet a surprisingly large number of studies continue to have a uninational focus, seeing world affairs from the perspective of just one country. Many histories of the foreign policies of particular states fall into this category. They trace policy formations of one country by examining how its officials arrive at their decisions. Of...

    • THREE Where in the World Is America? The History of the United States in the Global Age
      (pp. 63-100)
      Charles Bright and Michael Geyer

      What could be more American than a move to reposition U.S.-American history in the path of world history—to frame a new historical imagination appropriate for a transnational polity in a global age that supersedes the frontier images devised for a largely agrarian nation or the images of the “arsenal of democracy” so suitable for an urban-industrial nation of ever growing abundance?¹ Rethinking this history in terms of where the world may now be going is entirely in keeping with powerful traditions in American historiography. There are no national histories known to us that so deliberately, and, some would say,...


    • FOUR International at the Creation: Early Modern American History
      (pp. 103-122)
      Karen Ordahl Kupperman

      History begins in the East and moves steadily westward over two centuries until it finally arrives at the Pacific coast. This is the foundational conception of American history, one that all Americans accept as self-evidently true and founded in the realities of the period of first contact and settlement. But this truism comes down to us more from the nineteenth century, when it was elaborated, than the seventeenth. This version of America’s founding was cemented in place as the crisis of national identification grew. Daniel Webster, giving the first of the annual Forefathers’ Day speeches in 1820, endorsed the nineteenth-century...

    • FIVE How the West Was One: The African Diaspora and the Re-Mapping of U.S. History
      (pp. 123-147)
      Robin D. G. Kelley

      What is the United States, if not a nation of overlapping diasporas? Perhaps this is the defining characteristic of the New World, if not the entire world—particularly in the age of modernity, when travel, discovery, settlement, and nation-building have been the order of the epoch. While historians have recognized and explored these overlapping diasporas, with roots in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, they tend to treat them as an assemblage of marginalized identities. Rarely has the concept of diaspora been employed asthecentral theme of American history.¹

      Part of the problem has been our conception of the...

    • SIX Time and Revolution in African America: Temporality and the History of Atlantic Slavery
      (pp. 148-167)
      Walter Johnson

      Let me begin with a famous misunderstanding. As he later recounted it, when Olaudah Equiano first saw the white slave traders who eventually carried him to the West Indies, he thought they were “bad spirits” who were going to eat him. Awaiting shipment across an ocean he had never heard of, Equiano, like many of the slaves carried away by the traders, made sense of an absurd situation with a narrative of supernatural power.¹ When he sat down to write his narrative, of course, Equiano knew better than to believe that the white men on the coast were “spirits.” By...

    • SEVEN Beyond the View from Euro-America: Environment, Settler Societies, and the Internationalization of American History
      (pp. 168-192)
      Ian Tyrrell

      American historiography was born in Europe, not America. It was Europeans who conceptualized the American continent as exceptional, and projected onto it all of their hopes and dysutopian fantasies.¹ Although American historiography became separated from Europe progressively from the late nineteenth century through to the 1940s, the European legacy remains strong in the notion of American difference, established, more often than not, by comparison with Europe. The call for a reorientation of American history toward transnational themes is as timely as the claims of Frederick Jackson Turner one hundred years ago on the frontier thesis, yet incomplete if it remains...


    • EIGHT From Euro- and Afro-Atlantic to Pacific Migration System: A Comparative Migration Approach to North American History
      (pp. 195-235)
      Dirk Hoerder

      Men and women of many cultures actively created the societies of the Americas. Newcomers from three continents first established the Euro-Atlantic and Afro-Atlantic migration systems, then, in the 1570s, the early phase of a route across the Pacific to South America. After a century of Iberian migrations to Central and South America, northwest European migration to North America began. Eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century migration of Russians from Siberia, accompanied by Aleut fishermen, along the Pacific coast as far south as California remained quantitatively marginal.¹ African culture in the Americas was transferred from sub-Saharan Africa, shaped by the constraints of Euro-American...

    • NINE Framing U.S. History: Democracy, Nationalism, and Socialism
      (pp. 236-249)
      Robert Wiebe

      What follows, it scarcely need be said, is no more than the sketch of how we might situate the history of the United States in a transoceanic context. Just as obviously, it is a choice among many possible frameworks, one that spotlights some people and some subjects as it shades others. It gives preference to Europe and North America over the rest of the world, the free over the enslaved, and men over women. If it incorporates eighteenth-century history as a running start, it ignores the seventeenth. As compensation, it allows us to think about the Western world’s three most...

    • TEN An Age of Social Politics
      (pp. 250-273)
      Daniel T. Rodgers

      The age of social politics was the fourth great phase in the history of the relationship between Europe and the emergent United States. The first was an age of outpost settlements, highly diverse, thinly connected both to their European metropoles and to one another, subsisting in rough military and economic parity with the Native American populations of the continent. The second, running roughly from the last quarter of the seventeenth century to the last quarter of the eighteenth, was an age of commercial Atlantic empires, binding the Euro-American settlements to their imperial centers (and, far beyond that, to the Amerindian...

    • ELEVEN The Age of Global Power
      (pp. 274-294)
      Marilyn B. Young

      The interesting task of this volume is to develop a way of thinking about and writing the history of the United States that avoids the customary practice of American historians, especially in the post–World War II period, of transforming the commonsense notion of different national histories into a conviction that the United States is unique. “Of the controlling themes in contemporary United States history writing,” Daniel Rogers observes in a recent essay, “none were pressed more urgently upon professional historians by the surrounding culture than a desire not merely for difference but for a particularity beyond all other nations’...

    • TWELVE American Empire and Cultural Imperialism: A View from the Receiving End
      (pp. 295-314)
      Rob Kroes

      The internationalization of American studies can mean various things. The phrase pops up in various contexts. There used to be broad agreement that the object of American studies was the history, society, and culture of the geopolitical entity that we know as the United States, commonly referred to by both its own citizens and outsiders as America. As recent trends in American studies make clear, however, the object of study needs to be internationalized, and so do scholarly approaches to it. A further goal of internationalization appears to be greater interaction among the worldwide constituency of American studies scholars.



    • THIRTEEN Do American Historical Narratives Travel?
      (pp. 317-342)
      François Weil

      At the 1983 meeting of the American Historical Association, a panel discussion on “American History Today: Parochial or Cosmopolitan?” provided Raymond Grew, then editor ofComparative Studies in Society and History,with an opportunity to discuss what he called “the comparative weakness of American history.” Arguing that there seems “to be some resistance to or inhibition against comparative approaches in the way that American history is conceived and practiced,” Grew wondered “why the historiography of the United States has not had a greater impact on the historical discipline generally,” noting:

      It is likely that more historians have studied the history...

    • FOURTEEN The Modernity of America and the Practice of Scholarship
      (pp. 343-366)
      Winfried Fluck

      The humanities have been decisively reshaped by their transformation into a competitive profession. This transformation is, at present, most advanced in the United States, where growing professionalization encourages a race for new and "original" insights, which compete for visibility. The result is an academic culture of constant redescription, which, in turn, leads to a growing fragmentation of knowledge. While the volume of scholarship increases steadily, the volume of available knowledge is thus constantly reduced. Ironically enough, however, scholars in the humanities have little interest in working against this trend, because they are profiting from it in two significant ways. First,...

    • FIFTEEN The Exhaustion of Enclosures: A Critique of Internationalization
      (pp. 367-380)
      Ron Robin

      This essay seeks to delineate the theoretical and practical significance of the internationalization movement within the American historical guild. It is written from the perspective of a wary beneficiary of this new openness who feels that the impulse is welcome but that its impact on the international scholar of the American past is disappointing. My critique is based on generalizations that flatten the range and varieties of philosophies contained in the current debate. Not all advocates of internationalization fit snugly into my compartmentalized analysis. Nevertheless, the literature in leading journals as a whole points toward these generalizations.

      The most visible...

    • SIXTEEN The Historian’s Use of the United States and Vice Versa
      (pp. 381-396)
      David A. Hollinger

      Nations can easily turn historians into tools. When David Potter etched this point into the collective mind of historians in 1962, he assumed that nations, for better or for worse, would remain the central subject of historians. Potter paused at the start of “The Historian’s Use of Nationalism and Vice Versa” to find it a bit odd that he and his colleagues could really suppose that “the 2,500,000,000 people of the world would fall naturally into a series of national groups.” But he went on swiftly and confidently to conclude that nations wereit. That even a historian as skeptical...

  9. APPENDIX. Participants in the La Pietra Conferences, 1997–2000
    (pp. 397-400)
    (pp. 401-404)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 405-427)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 428-428)