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Empires of the Imagination

Empires of the Imagination: Transatlantic Histories of the Louisiana Purchase

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 384
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    Empires of the Imagination
    Book Description:

    Empires of the Imaginationtakes the Louisiana Purchase as a point of departure for a compelling new discussion of the interaction between France and the United States. In addition to offering the first substantive synthesis of this transatlantic relationship, the essays collected here offer new interpretations on themes vital to the subject, ranging from political culture to intercultural contact to ethnic identity. They capture the cultural breadth of the territories encompassed by the Louisiana Purchase, exploring not only French and Anglo-American experiences, but also those of Native Americans and African Americans.

    Despite differences in concerns and methods, the pieces collected share crucial ground in how they suggest new ways for thinking about empire, identity, and memory. The authors show how France and the United States set about their competing imperial projects even as residents of the North American West effectively resisted those imperial aims, creating instead their own notions of community and connection. At the same time, these essays show how the contact among peoples created new social configurations and distinct cultural identities. Moving beyond the particulars of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, these essays reveal how the Louisiana Purchase subsequently entered into the public consciousness on both sides of the Atlantic in ways that continue to define imperial projects, racial identities, and ethnic communities.

    Delineating a unique moment in transatlantic historical conversation,Empires of the Imaginationalso provides important lessons in cross-disciplinary approaches to North American and Atlantic history. In addition to the multinational perspectives of the authors, individual essays deploy social science history, political culture, and ideological history, as well as social and cultural history, to create a cohesive understanding of diverse experiences.

    Contributors:Emily Clark, Tulane University * Laurent Dubois, Duke University * Mark Fernandez, Loyola University, New Orleans * Peter J. Kastor, Washington University in St. Louis * Paul Lachance, University of Ottawa * Jean-Pierre Le Glaunec, Dalhousie University * James E. Lewis Jr., Kalamazoo College * Peter S. Onuf, University of Virginia * Jacques Portes, Université de Paris VIII * Marie-Jeanne Rossignol, Université de Paris VII-Denis Diderot * Cécile Vidal, L' École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales * François Weil, L' École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales * Richard White, Stanford University

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2817-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    In 2003, the United States and France found themselves at odds. As the United States prepared for war, France emerged as one of the most vocal critics of military operations in Iraq. It was a dispute that unleashed passions in both countries, but also a certain degree of confusion. It had been years since France and the United States expressed such profoundly divergent foreign policies, and people struggled to decide just how to understand the dispute.

    Appropriately enough, the debate and the confusion unleashed by the Iraq War came just as people were commemorating the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase,...

  4. Prologue: Jefferson, Louisiana, and American Nationhood
    (pp. 23-34)

    For Thomas Jefferson, the westward expansion of the new United States epitomized the progress of civilization. Near the end of his life, he looked back on the new nation’s history. “Let a philosophic observer commence a journey from the savages of the Rocky Mountains, eastwardly towards our sea-coast,” he wrote William Ludlow, and he will have observed “this march of civilization advancing from the sea coast, passing over us like a cloud of light”: as civilization advanced, “Barbarism has . . . been receding.”¹ Nearly a quarter of a century earlier, in his First Inaugural Address, Jefferson looked forward in...


    • The Louisiana Purchase and the Fictions of Empire
      (pp. 37-61)

      For all practical purposes, early nineteenth-century French Louisiana consisted of New Orleans, a corridor along the Mississippi, and fingers of land extending up the major western tributaries of the Mississippi, but the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 conveyed a much larger area to the United States. This area was less a place than a claim, and really less a claim than an object of desire — a desire for what empires had previously not been able to possess. The object of desire embodied a double fiction. The first fiction was that the seller possessed the object conveyed, and the second was that...

    • From Incorporation to Exclusion: Indians, Europeans, and Americans in the Mississippi Valley from 1699 to 1830
      (pp. 62-92)

      The history of intercultural relations in the North American interior was nothing if not complex. Throughout the eighteenth century, a place that came to be called “Louisiana” came into being through the intersection of imperial rivalry, commercial development, and local negotiation.

      Understanding how Indians, Europeans, and Americans understood that world therefore requires some background on its creation. In 1699, the French founded the colony of Louisiana. This same year, d’Iberville reached Biloxi bay, and the priests of the Seminary of Foreign Missions established the first permanent mission of the Illinois Country at Cahokia. In 1718, one year after the cession...

    • The Haitian Revolution and the Sale of Louisiana; or, Thomas Jefferson’s (Unpaid) Debt to Jean-Jacques Dessalines
      (pp. 93-116)

      From the perspective of the history of France and its Atlantic empire, what in the United States is known as the “Louisiana Purchase” is remembered as the “Sale of Louisiana.” And it has traditionally been interpreted as primarily, if not exclusively, the result of European “balance-of-power” politics, specifically the complicated diplomatic and political tensions between France and Britain during the brief period of peace that lasted from late 1801 until 1803. But, as Robert Paquette has emphasized, seeing Bonaparte’s decision to sell Louisiana in purely European terms is “rather parochial,” for it is impossible to separate the “balance of power”...

    • A Tornado on the Horizon: The Jefferson Administration, the Retrocession Crisis, and the Louisiana Purchase
      (pp. 117-140)

      In the spring of 1801, during the first months of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, news began to reach the United States of a recent, secret agreement between France and Spain. Newspapers, private letters, reports by merchants and other travelers, and, in time, official dispatches from American diplomats abroad all carried the disturbing rumors. The most reliable, and the most worrisome, of these reports came from Rufus King, the American minister in London. In a letter that arrived in Washington in late May, King provided further evidence that Spain had “ceded Louisiana and the Floridas to France.” What seemed most alarming about...


    • The Louisiana Purchase in the Demographic Perspective of Its Time
      (pp. 143-179)

      The amount of territory included in the Louisiana Purchase has relegated to a second plan the number of people who lived there. It added 827,000 square miles of land to the United States, almost doubling the previous area of the new nation and extending its western boundary from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. National histories usually describe this part of the North American continent at the time it was acquired from France as a vast, unsettled wilderness, over which, until 1890, a frontier of civilization steadily advanced.¹ Nevertheless, it was already inhabited in 1803 by indigenous peoples who...

    • Refracted Reformations and the Making of Republicans
      (pp. 180-203)

      When he visited New Orleans in 1805, the Philadelphia journalist John Watson recorded his impressions of the new American city with the careful descriptive detail latter-day anthropologists employ in their field notes on exotic cultures. And, like them, he paid particular attention to religious behavior: “On Monday (the day of Ascension) the priests, with the host and an altar, issue from the cathedral and go round the Place D’Arms in solemn procession, chanting, crossing, and smoking frankincense. As the host is held on high, the people fall down and worship in the street.” He later clarifies the distinctiveness of this...

    • Slave Migrations and Slave Control in Spanish and Early American New Orleans
      (pp. 204-238)

      The period that broadly frames the Louisiana Purchase was a period marked by intense slave migrations that today remain partly undocumented and largely misunderstood. In the present essay, I have seemingly simple objectives. I first want to answer still partly unanswered questions as to approximately how many slaves migrated to New Orleans in the late Spanish and early American period, the routes by which they arrived, and who they were.¹ I begin by looking at slave migrations before the Louisiana Purchase as far back as 1783. I then consider the patterns of slave migration that characterized the period that followed...

    • “They Are All Frenchmen”: Background and Nation in an Age of Transformation
      (pp. 239-267)

      Pierre Derbigny was a Frenchman — some of the time. He certainly came from France. He was born in Laon in 1769. Napoleon Bonaparte was born that same year, and both men faced reversed versions of the same challenge. Where Napoleon had to convince people that his birth on Corsica did not prevent him from claiming membership in a French national community, Derbigny had to convince people that his birth in France did not always make him a Frenchman.

      Derbigny eventually joined a small but influential population of French expatriates who came to Louisiana in the wake of the French Revolution....

    • Edward Livingston, America, and France: Making Law
      (pp. 268-298)

      What does it mean to be an American? That question, perhaps still confounding today, was even more confusing in the aftermath of the Louisiana Purchase. In recent years, historians have made great strides toward defining the Creole culture and the Creolization of Louisiana. Few historians, however, have paid similar attention to the idea of Americanization.

      For most of the twentieth century, the idea of Americanization has centered on the immigration of Anglo-Americans and their efforts to gain ascendancy in government, politics, and society. Consequently, Americanization has always been treated as a rather homogeneous process with singular goals.¹ Edward Livingston’s experience...


    • The Purchase and the Making of French Louisiana
      (pp. 301-326)

      Lafayette’s five-day visit to New Orleans in April 1825 was quite an event. The “Nation’s guest” was received with extraordinary respect. The Cabildo was chosen to serve as his accommodations and cleaned, repaired, and refurnished for the occasion. “Elegant tints and draperies, brilliant chandeliers, heavy mirrors, novelty rugs — nothing, in fact, was spared to furnish properly what was already becoming known as ‘The House of Lafayette.’ ” A 68–feet-high triumphal arch, “decorated with colossal statues of Justice and Liberty,” was built on the Place d’Armes in honor of the revolutionary hero. When the “Guest of Louisiana” made his entry...

    • Celebration and History: The Case of the Louisiana Purchase
      (pp. 327-364)

      Historical celebrations uneasily combine authentic or reconstructed memory with political goals. So historians may rightly feel they are acting under constraint when they are involved in such projects, while government officials cannot organize ceremonies without professional historians’ specific approach and tools: the development of public history and the growing employment of professional historians in North American — and to a lesser extent French1— museums and historical parks do not make the issue any less sensitive.

      Consider, for example, the problems caused in 1995 when the Air and Space Museum decided to commemorate the ending of the Second World War together with...

  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 365-366)
  9. Index
    (pp. 367-370)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 371-371)