Watersheds in Time and Place
Writing American History in Europe
Michael Heale, Sylvia Hilton, Halina Parafianowicz, Paul Schor, and Maurizio Vaudagna
Promoting American history in Europe has been a thankless and even dangerous business. Charles Kingsley as regius professor of modern history at Cambridge in 1866 endorsed a proposal that Harvard send someone to lecture on American history every other year, but was angrily rebuffed by dons who feared for the monarchy and the Church of England, one thundering that "we shall be favored with a biennial flash of Transatlantic darkness." For somewhat similar reasons, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia prohibited the teaching of comparative constitutional law in universities. The king of Naples jailed a professor in 1858 for citing George Washington favorably, and even if that story is apocryphal, its circulation hardly encouraged the open study of American history.
But, sometimes nourished, sometimes abused, American history did struggle to life in European universities. Its emergence and local trajectories were uneven, since Europe was far from a homogeneous entity. Today Europe comprises some fifty countries, and any attempt to map the course of academic interest in American history in them is necessarily tentative. This chapter offers a broad chronological analysis of European historiography of the United States. It locates major watersheds at the end of the nineteenth century, shortly after World War II, in the mid-1970s, and following the fall of the Berlin Wall. While the Cold War significantly boosted the study of American history in Europe, its end ironically marked an even more rapid expansion of the field. This chapter also charts regional and national variations, including the differing experiences of writing American history in western and eastern Europe and the distinctive case of the Iberian Peninsula. It matters where history is written. In recent years, global and other influences have promoted some convergence in the practices and perspectives of professional historians, but national cultures remain resilient enough to sustain the discrete characteristics of the European academies.
The recurring preoccupations of European Americanists reflect the influence of place. It hardly needs to be said that the diverse connections between the American and European continents have long commanded attention, as scholars have examined the bilateral relationships between their home countries and the United States. Colonial expansion, migration, diplomatic relations, wars, trade, and transatlantic cultural interactions are all topics susceptible to scholarly research in European archives and have often been seen as extensions of European history. When the Polish scholar Michal Rozbicki first taught in a U.S. university, his students were bemused by his treatment of New England Puritanism as a continuation of the European Reformation rather than as a "new chapter," with the focus on migrants who could not "escape" their culture. Once American history in this Atlantic perspective was well established in a particular country, though, its practitioners tended to diversify into other areas. The very distance of Europe from the American continent may also condition what scholars choose to see, as illustrated by a long-standing interest in the American experience with race. Well before the publication of Gunnar Myrdal's The American Dilemma (1944), and especially since the 1960s, European scholars have written extensively on American slavery and race, intrigued by the looming presence in American history of a phenomenon so at odds with the values enunciated in the Declaration of Independence. Lately European interest in racial and ethnic themes has sharpened as several European countries have themselves become immigrant destinations. Location has also played a role in the marked growth in recent decades of the U.S. cultural and social history fields, for while this is partly a reflection of modern historiographical trends, it is also a product of the academic structures in Continental Europe, where American history is often housed in English or American studies departments: a prerequisite of its study is the English language.
The influence of location largely explains one of the most persisting European interests in American history-that is, political and constitutional history-which until recent decades have often seemed almost to crowd out other kinds. The American Revolution early inspired some Europeans; wars and convulsions in Europe throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries meant that state building was constantly beginning anew; and the ingenuity of the American way of government invited study. American federalism was of some interest to the political classes in such countries as Germany and Poland. The intellectual competition among European nations occasionally focused attention on the U.S. polity, as in the famous Boutmy-Jellinek controversy of 1902 over the origins of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789. The rise of the United States to world-power status and its commanding global role since the Second World War in particular meant that it could hardly be denied a place in modern European curricula, and with the end of the Cold War, several European countries had to begin political reconstruction yet again. When some U.S. historians began to fear for the survival of political history toward the end of the twentieth century, their European counterparts, only too aware of the hand of the state, had no need "to bring the state back in" and sometimes strained to understand what was new about the "new political history" that U.S. practitioners advanced.
Political agendas were often closely associated with another lasting characteristic of European approaches to writing American history: duality. These studies were being composed in societies where favorable or at least evenhanded views coexisted with strong anti-American sentiments, which politically and culturally influential groups often manifested. Positive and negative images of the United States competed in the media and a range of other cultural forms, of which historical scholarship was no exception. In Communist countries, scholars countered to some degree the anti-U.S. projections in studies enjoined by the state by looking for ideologically safe topics, such as early American-Russian relations. In recent decades, anti-Americanism has been associated mainly with the Left, but in earlier periods there were also powerful conservative critics of the American experiment. When a Cambridge postgraduate expressed an interest in an American research topic in the 1950s, his adviser sniffed, "American history is not a fit subject for a gentleman." The disapprobation of the United States, expressed with varying degrees of intensity by people on both the left and the right throughout much of Europe, meant that where pro-American scholarly publications appeared, they often had a missionary air. Whether sympathetic or unsympathetic to the American cause, these political messages were being conveyed to domestic audiences. But there were not many academic historical studies of either kind. The most important consequence of this pervasive disregard was that until recently, American history was simply not practiced in Europe in any serious way. Even today there are countries where it is difficult to identify a single university post expressly dedicated to American history.
The "European tragedy" haunted historical writing on the Continent in the twentieth century, one reason for the limited and often distorted attention to U.S. history. For decades, dictatorship, war, huge losses of life and liberty, and sometimes racism and genocide overshadowed the promotion of humane values. The Third Reich and Stalinism loom large in European memory. While it might be expected that nineteenth-century autocracies would repress academic disciplines that encouraged egalitarian ideas, for large parts of the twentieth century too there was little freedom of expression in some major countries. Location could mean that American history was simply not written or severely circumscribed if it was. Official ideology conditioned much of the history written in the Soviet Union and its satellites, and interwar Italy and the authoritarian regimes of Spain and Portugal throughout the middle decades of the twentieth century were hardly more receptive to balanced approaches to the United States. Scholars in democratic countries too, although not directly subject to state supervision, were exposed to ideological influences arising from their own political cultures.
The Image of the New World, 1776-1898
Although European interest in American history exploded after the Cold War, this is not to suggest that Europeans of an earlier age were uninterested in the United States, which after all was being shaped by the huge waves of migrants who crossed the Atlantic. European intellectuals in large numbers looked to the remarkable American example with the future of their own countries in mind. Alexis de Tocqueville's examination of American democracy, which was profoundly influential across Europe, was just one of the publications that fostered perceptions of the United States as an uncommon country. Such eloquent studies, the work of travelers, journalists, and literary and other public figures, were often designed to further political causes at home and were doubtless more influential than those of academic historians, which were slow to appear.
In the nineteenth century, professional historians in Europe kept their sights firmly on the histories of their own countries and empires, as befitted an age of nationalism. American history could be regarded simply as a somewhat dubious and recent by-product of European history, an aspect of the European diaspora, hardly worth further attention. Germany was something of an exception. Enlightenment ideas had penetrated universities in the eighteenth century, and professorial interest in American matters was early personified by Christoph Ebeling, who between 1793 and 1816 offered seven volumes on the land he called the "Mother Country of Liberty." German educational reforms developed the PhD degree, based in part on original research in primary sources, and from the mid-nineteenth century the kind of historical methodology associated with Leopold von Ranke, with its reputed scientific empiricism, attracted many visiting American scholars. Hermann von Holst wrote his multivolume Constitutional History of the United States in Germany before returning to the United States in 1892. Academic historians elsewhere very occasionally engaged with American history. In France, Édouard de Laboulaye, a sympathizer of the Union cause, published a political history of the United States; also showing an interest in the American liberal experiment was the Russian constitutional historian Maxim M. Kovalevskii, who was rewarded with dismissal from the University of Moscow in 1887.
But the promise of America was a promise about the future, not the past, and it was really political and social scientists who pioneered serious scholarship of American matters. In Spain from the 1870s the Havana-born political scientist Rafael María de Labra published several works on the United States. James Bryce's The American Commonwealth appeared in 1888, and the Russian political scientist Moisey Ostrogorski (then living in France) offered Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties in 1902. A few years later, Werner Sombart asked his celebrated question "Why is there no socialism in the United States?," inviting subsequent European historians to consider applying a class analysis to the country.
American Power and the European Tragedy, 1898-1945
A rather grudging academic interest in American history emerged in Europe, not entirely coincidentally, as a more ominous image of the United States began to challenge that of the liberal dreamland. The Spanish-American War of 1898 had an impact well beyond Spain. If the United States could take colonies from one European country, why not from others? Such anxieties promoted a debate about the nature of U.S. imperialism. In France, for example, the few doctoral dissertations on the United States before 1898 had almost invariably focused on the American Revolution and U.S. constitutional history; now some probed the threat that the United States might represent for the French West Indies, with one concluding by asking whether Guadeloupe or Martinique would be next. This reflected a more general awareness in Europe of the United States as a rising power, an awareness that was also an interrogation of the relative positions of European nations in what seemed to be an emerging and unclear new world order.
The First World War powerfully reinforced the perception of the United States as a major power. In Germany the war boosted demand for "foreign studies," a distinctive example of the importance of positionality in promoting scholarship, Germany's defeat sometimes being attributed to its failure to understand the nation that had delivered victory to the Allies. An important dimension of foreign studies, according to Friedrich Schönemann at the time, should be Amerikakunde, an integrated study of American civilization drawing on the social sciences (though this at first made little progress). Woodrow Wilson's sensitivity toward self-determination keenly burnished the American image in eastern and central European countries looking for the reassurance of friendship from a "sister republic," as did Herbert Hoover's role in the American Relief Administration. In Poland and Czechoslovakia in the early 1920s there was popular fascination with the apparent moral, economic, and cultural superiority of the United States, which could be cast as a kind of reproof of established regimes (including the Soviet Union, with its uncomfortable proximity). The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace donated a library of Americana to Pázmány Péter University in Budapest in 1928 (as it also gave American books to other universities), and an attempt to create an American Institute in Prague eventually succeeded in 1931.
American economic might now commanded considerable attention, not least because of the uncertain economic times in Europe, and if professional historians were still barely deigning to glance across the Atlantic, economists and other social scientists were probing both the reasons for American success and its human costs. Indeed, the United States as the exemplar of modernity triggered widespread unease among intellectual elites. The Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, in his 1918 and 1927 books, admired American strength but worried about mechanization and mass society and their implications for Europe's future. The American mind, it seemed, had little sense of history. Where Sombart had encouraged his fellow European scholars to think of the United States in terms of class, Huizinga favored an analysis of mass society. In 1929 Antonio Gramsci embarked on Americanism and Fordism, positing a "perfect" American capitalism poised against the remnants of European feudalism, which would also influence the approaches to the United States of European historians. Roman Dyboski, one of Poland's leading academics, was another who examined what the United States had to offer.
There had long been ambiguity and confusion in Europe about the United States, and political and cultural currents often pulled in opposing directions. This ambivalence continued to characterize the Depression years. In Britain the first chair of American history (other than for visiting Americans) was established at University College, London, in 1930, though its occupant, H. Hale Bellot, had never been to the United States, from which he kept a safe and disapproving distance by concentrating on historiography. (Late in his career Bellot did visit the United States but did not like it.) On the Continent, the European tragedy played itself out. In the interwar years, democratic elements in Austria and Czechoslovakia made some attempts to develop American history, which Nazi might snuffed out. American power provoked some admiration in the Third Reich, though the emerging genre of Amerikakunde offered a highly nationalistic depiction of U.S. history. In Eduard Baumgarten's Die geistigen Grundlagen des amerikanischen Gemeinwesens, American pragmatism took on National Socialist characteristics. Friedrich Schönemann, who in 1936 was appointed to the first chair of American cultural and literary history in Germany, sometimes wrote for the Nazi party's newspaper and was still championing foreign studies, which could be seen as a form of "political reconnaissance" for the Nazi state. Some "politically compromised" professors had their careers cut short after the war.
In other countries too, circumstances could put scholars on the wrong side of ideological lines. In France the prominent historian Bernard Faÿ (a friend of Gertrude Stein) wrote warmly in Roosevelt and His America (1933) of a United States that was "still young and attractive" but later excoriated the New Deal as a communist creation and became a Nazi apologist. During the war he associated with the Vichy regime and after it was convicted of collaboration and sent to prison (from which Alice B. Toklas helped him escape). Another intriguing career was that of the Italian Gennaro Mondaini, who wrote about the American colonies in a socialist vein before aligning himself with fascism; on one occasion Mussolini instructed him not to teach a course on U.S. economic history at the University of Rome. In the early years of fascist Italy there was a notion that the "reborn" country could make common cause with the United States as another "young nation" poised against the decaying regimes of old Europe, but by the 1930s this illusion was abandoned as the regime turned its official narrative to the praise of Italian antiquity, especially the Roman Empire. Several young Italian writers, among them Elio Vittorini, turned to American authors, particularly those who aspired to speak to the events of everyday life, as a refuge from the heavy rhetoric of regime discourse and so constituting "a powerful secret weapon against the hollowness of fascism." Meanwhile, a handful of reform-minded modernizers in Spain openly admired the United States, but after the civil war (1936-39), Spanish universities lost many such intellectual leaders, who were forced into exile. In the Soviet Union the first doctorate in American history was awarded in 1938, to Vladimirovitch Efimov for a dissertation titled "Concerning the History of Capitalism in the U.S."
American history had never been well established in Europe as an academic discipline. The European tragedy did little to enhance the topic; rather, as another world war loomed, it was either severely compromised or nonexistent in many countries.
Cold Warriors and Strange Bedfellows, 1945-1975
It was the Second World War, followed closely by the Cold War, that transformed the prospects for American history in Europe. The gifts of American popular and consumer culture, of course, had been showering on Europe since at least the 1920s, subtly shaping perceptions and raising expectations, but now the U.S. state was in Europe to stay. A political invasion had begun, with U.S. ambassadors, cultural attachés, businessmen, GIs, and philanthropic foundations each playing a part. The Marshall Program, launched in 1947, made western Europe the beneficiary of awesome largesse. This American presence in the quarter century after 1945 was against a background of economic expansion, which meant that a new generation grew up in an increasingly affluent culture suffused with American music, film, soft drinks, and other products. The term Coca-Colonization made an early appearance in the French Communist press in 1949. (French conservatives were also uneasy about the implications of American influence for "the whole panorama and morale of French civilization.")
The "shock and awe" of American hard and soft power after 1945 had a profound impact on European academia. The United States was relevant to European life as never before-and knew it, a recognition underlined by the conscious effort on the part of U.S. diplomacy to redesign the public image of the United States as a progressive country challenging European elitisms and cultural pretensions. The Fulbright Program, promoting educational exchanges, was signed into law in 1946, and other forms of educational aid were soon on offer, such as financial assistance to European groups that championed American studies and to university libraries for acquiring American resources. Such succor slowly helped to advance the place of American history in European curricula.
Nonetheless, the U.S. cultural offensive was not without its problems. In West Germany, scarred by the Nazi experience, academics were wary of succumbing to another governmental creed. According to the German historian Eike Wolgast, they wittingly cultivated an apolitical stance. U.S. cultural missionaries seized on the academic multidiscipline of "American studies" as a way of promoting the distinctiveness and virtues of American life, but the term had unfortunate connotations in Germany, where it had been associated with attempts by those close to the Third Reich to refashion academic approaches to the United States. Scandinavian countries, reflecting an impulse to find a neutral middle way between East and West, were hesitant about developing American subjects; the onset of the Cold War, according to a Norwegian scholar, served "to impede rather than further the study . . . of U.S. history at the University of Oslo." The indefatigable efforts of the American studies enthusiast Sigmund Skard ensured the presence of American subjects in Norway, though in Sweden there proved to be "a general indisposition" among historians to research non-European topics and a reluctance to adopt area studies programs. In Italy and France, large Communist parties were hostile to American overtures, and there were influential Catholic elements in Italy and Spain that had little faith in U.S.-style modernization.
The peoples of many countries of western Europe had been living amicably enough with their Communist fellow citizens for years and found it hard to recognize the demons of U.S. propaganda. "After all," as the Dutch historian Doeko Bosscher has written, "the Soviet Union had borne the brunt of the Nazi aggression and had suffered enormously doing the right thing." Whatever the temptations of American popular culture, European academic and political elites were not always keen to embrace the U.S. agenda. Anti-Americanism (left- and right-wing, clerical and cultural) was pervasive. Italy had western Europe's largest Communist party, but when one of its members betrayed some sympathy for American matters in his cultural review Il Politecnico in 1947, it was closed down. General Franco may have allowed U.S. military bases in Spain (intensifying the anti-Americanism of the Spanish Left), but he resisted the introduction of U.S. cultural influences and did not admit the Fulbright Program until 1958. The cultural Cold War had its counterpoint in the Soviet Union, where-in contrast to Continental western Europe-studies of American history quickened.
It is tempting, though perhaps a pardonable simplification, to suggest that there were three broad approaches to American history in Europe between the Second World War and the mid-1970s, as time and place came together to shape scholarship. In Britain, then and later, historians could engage with the trends of U.S. history writing in the United States (while advancing their own agenda) courtesy of a common language, a "special relationship," and, increasingly, a common publishing market. The socialist world-that is, the Soviet Union and its European allies-composed a vigorous if institutionalized and bureaucratized Marxist approach, featuring a version of U.S. foreign policy and histories of U.S. capitalism and the working class. Able Soviet scholars diligently studied the United States just as U.S. scholars studied the Soviet Union, each fashioning images of the other, even if the former were more conscious of the heavy hand of government. In Continental western Europe, somewhat less subject to Cold War imperatives, public questions that emerged in those countries largely conditioned historical writing about the United States, and there was little engagement with U.S. historiography. Indeed, Americanist historians there were not only very few but also isolated from the historical academic communities of both the United States and (often) their own countries.
In the quarter century after 1945, Great Britain was much the most receptive to the academic nurturing of American history (as it was also now somewhat more receptive to other non-European history). In 1945 there was just one British chair in the subject (tenable by a Briton) and perhaps half a dozen lecturers; by 1970 more than ninety people were teaching American history in British universities, many seeing themselves as part of an Anglo-American academic community rather than as Europeans. The Institute for United States Studies was founded in London in 1965. In contrast to the Continent, historians rather than literature specialists tended to lead the way in American studies in Great Britain. The close wartime alliance, a convenient language, and American financial lubrication help to explain this expansion, but more important were the peculiar circumstances in Britain. Whatever the interest of British political leaders in promoting the special relationship, a conservative academic establishment still saw little merit in American subjects. There were visiting chairs for U.S. historians at Oxford and Cambridge, but such short-term stays did little to encourage graduate studies, and in terms of posts the subject advanced somewhat more readily in other universities. (Something similar obtained in France, where Daniel Boorstin's unhappy year at the Sorbonne in 1962-63 seemed to undermine the possibility of ever creating a chair of American history in the country.) Frank Thistlethwaite, the first chair of the British Association for American Studies, noted that "the founding generation of British Americanists were often from the unfashionable North, or of 'trade' or otherwise non-Establishment background."
But these lowborn pioneers, often returning from war with warm memories of U.S. allies, had some advantages. One was a liberal impulse in British life that was impatient with traditional class distinctions but was no more enamored of communist totalitarianism. The American liberal tradition, not to mention the enticing expansiveness of American life, seemed to offer lessons for a straitened Britain. In examining American liberal success, recently exemplified by the New Deal, these scholars could write about American subjects while advancing a political agenda at home. Further, they were well placed to explore the nature of the special relationship and arguably its indispensability to western security. In this, however, while serving their demands for U.S. history posts, they risked offending their potential colleagues on the Continent. When H. C. Allen, who succeeded Bellot in the London chair, wrote with evident sincerity that "the history of Anglo-American relations" was "the most important [topic], as well as the most relevant, to the future of Western civilization," many Continental Europeans saw only another example of ethnocentric Anglo-Saxonism. (It did not help the cause of American history in Continental Europe that the cultures of the Anglophone world were often examined together, so Britain could still crowd out the United States.)
The rapid postwar expansion of American history in Britain was not paralleled on the Continent except in the Soviet Union, as we shall see. There was some interest in promoting the subject, as reflected in the creation of the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies at the Free University of Berlin in 1963 and the establishment of a chair in American history at the Sorbonne in 1967. But posts appeared only occasionally and slowly, and many countries remained barren of dedicated positions. Nonetheless, as in Britain, there were glimpses of liberal, progressive, or social-democratic currents. Europe was rebuilding its political institutions, an opportunity for the American constitutional model to make its mark.
The European scholars of these years, on the Continent and in the United Kingdom, were writing in the heyday of consensus history in the United States. They might reflect on the distinctive characteristics of U.S. politics and society but were not always convinced by claims of American exceptionalism, and the liberal tradition rather than its consensual corollary seemed to draw them. The wars and convulsions that had often enough torn apart their own countries underlined to Europeans the precarious nature of political societies, especially as new constitutions were being written and governments reconstructed. Postwar Italian scholars, perhaps less nervous of U.S. influence than West Germans, were quickly at work studying the ideas of the American founders, their publications beginning to appear in the mid-1950s. Tiziano Bonazzi has written that this generation had in mind the recent creation of the Italian republic and "set out to make a thorough study of the founding period of the United States to provide support for their pluralist and secular view of contemporary Italy." American political and constitutional history was also the preoccupation of some French historians, such as André Tunc. By the 1960s, young German scholars such as Dirk Hoerder and Willi Paul Adams were researching the era of the American Revolution, and their works reached print in the 1970s.
If these various studies of the young republic and U.S. constitutional history suggested a progressive agenda in an era of political change, liberal sympathies could also be discerned in works on Franklin Roosevelt, who was something of a hero to many, including Ingrid Semmingsen of Norway, whose The Creation of a World Power: A History of the United States appeared in 1946. FDR was the subject of generally admiring studies in Britain, West Germany, Italy, and elsewhere. The prominent intellectual and journalist Raymond Aron spoke for a form of anticommunist liberalism in France, where André Siegfried was also writing in the liberal tradition, as he had been doing for decades. Some of the scholars who took up American history in postwar West Germany, Adams once noted, chose topics that reflected "an understandable desire to reconnect with the failed democratic liberal tradition in Germany." The attention to American labor in some countries suggested much the same orientation. Certainly the labor historians, a significant contingent and some still preoccupied with Sombart's question, probed the role of class antagonisms in the United States. The Briton Henry Pelling, for example, was somewhat unusual in his day, compared with his U.S. counterparts, in highlighting the violence that punctuated the history of American labor.
The interest in the classical liberalism of the Founding Fathers, in Franklin Roosevelt, and in American labor history carried an implication that postwar Europe might find something to its benefit in the American liberal-reform or progressive tradition. Other studies that were occasionally published in these early years, such as on the American Civil War or African Americans, also highlight divisions rather than cohesion in the American story. These scholars may have read Richard Hofstadter and Louis Hartz, but their recent study of American history had also introduced them to Progressive-era historians such as Charles Beard, Frederick L. Allen, Frederick Jackson Turner, Walter P. Webb, Claude Bowers, and Vernon Parrington, whose books were available not only in English but also sometimes in European translations. When Norwegian historians of that generation reflected on the consensus debate, Geir Lundestad has observed, their "writings about the U.S. have to be seen as progressive." The Soviet authorities finally decided in the early 1960s that it was safe to introduce their citizens to U.S. historians, but it was Parrington's Main Currents in American Thought that was translated into Russian, while Poland got a translation of Charles and Mary Beard's The Rise of American Civilization.
The American studies movement in the United States prompted some Europeans to participate in the quest for the "American character," but ironically, insofar as both U.S. cultural diplomacy and consensus history were occasioned by the Cold War, consensus history as such did not win many recruits among contemporary European Americanists. Exceptionalist theory, in the view of Michal Rozbicki, was a "rejection of the past." Often introduced to American history through progressive historians, European scholars scarcely had time to register consensus history before it was overtaken by New Left history, which many keenly embraced from the late 1960s, often seeming to empathize with liberal or reform traditions that acknowledged the depth and embattled nature of domestic divisions.
Somewhat similar conclusions could be drawn from the studies of connections, which burgeoned in the 1950s and 1960s. Thistlethwaite, in probing "the Anglo-American connection," did not find the United States characterized by consensual values, but he did emphasize the mutual affinities between British and American reformers. A major reason why European historians examined connections of many kinds-commercial, demographic, diplomatic, intellectual-is quite simply that they were not U.S. history specialists, for which positions generally did not exist. As practitioners of German, French, or Norwegian history they could operate from secure posts that allowed them to explore relationships across the Atlantic and use their own archives in the process. American scholars might be interested in their findings, but they primarily addressed academic audiences in their own countries. The scholarship of connections (together with studies of U.S. foreign policy) was the primary focus of European historians of the United States between the Second World War and the early 1970s. Their publications provided a base for the later development of American history in Europe as their pupils were able to become more specialized and sometimes find full-time Americanist posts.
The focus on connections, of course, reflected the new role of the United States in the world, particularly as the defender of "Western civilization," and those countries receiving Marshall Aid or being invited to host U.S. bases could hardly ignore their historical relationships with the American colossus. Bilateral relations with the United States have consistently been a staple of European historiography, and historians in postwar France, West Germany, and elsewhere were soon writing of the relationship of their own country with the United States. There was considerable attention to Atlantic migration in Britain, and Scandinavian scholars were early contributors to this genre, notably Semmingsen in Norway and Lars Ljungmark in Sweden. A Migration Research Project was established at Uppsala University in Sweden in 1962, from which several publications flowed. European scholars complemented the work of U.S. historians by paying more attention to the origins of emigrants. Economic history had an established position in these years, and some historians traced commercial and financial relationships across the Atlantic. North American colonial history received increasing attention from British, French, and Spanish scholars as they explored their countries' respective settlements. If an important function of the first generation of scholars after 1945 was to open doors for their protégés to delve deeper into U.S. history, another was to raise further questions about consensus history. The exploration of connections pointed up variations and affinities rather than profound differences; the United States may have been extraordinarily powerful but otherwise did not always seem so exceptional.
By the late 1960s there were further reasons to doubt American exceptionalism, and U.S. scholars themselves were now among the most vociferous critics of consensus history. Race riots and the deepening war in Vietnam undermined faith in the American cause both at home and abroad (and impeded the development of American history in at least some countries, as David Nye notes of northern Europe in chapter 12). The événements of May 1968 and their counterparts elsewhere shook more than just the political world. A young generation of U.S. historians stormed academic barricades with New Left history, broadly defined, including studies of the poor, black and native Americans, women, protest and repression, and questionable American interventions in the affairs of other countries. This coincided with the emergence of a postwar generation in Europe, steeped in American culture, that was making its way into finally expanding universities. The holds of the old conservative and Communist orthodoxies were slipping, and while young European scholars often embraced anti-Americanism of a kind, it was directed at the American state and at corporate capitalism (and sometimes, rather more ambiguously, at popular culture). Umberto Eco spoke of the anti-Americanism of an Americanized generation. Anti-Americanism now permitted these scholars to empathize with the apparent or forgotten victims of American power, domestic and foreign. In a sense, the spread of American history in the European academies was yet another sixties protest against the old establishments.
Throughout the late 1960s and the 1970s, New Left history in its liberating variety expanded its influence and soon advanced the analytical triad of class, race, and gender. The growth of American social history in West Germany in these years was attributed in part to "the radical commitment of a number of younger scholars directing their interest to some of the more vulnerable points of U.S. capitalism and democracy." The new history arguably had a greater impact in Europe than in the United States, because American history was still very little practiced on the Continent, and as it grew, studies of "the other America" became almost the new orthodoxy. Nonetheless, European historians could be selective about what they took from U.S. writing. For example, the works of David Montgomery and Herbert Gutman, with their vision of shop-floor militancy and cultural autonomy, became popular with radical young Italian academics restive under the top-down traditions of Italian Communist historians; similarly, George Rawick's work on the slave community, with its emphasis on slaves' agency, enjoyed a better reception than Eugene Genovese's The World the Slaveholders Made. Translations of Gutman and Rawick thus made possible a kind of hybridization of scholarship, as U.S. historiography interacted with local preoccupations.
By this time it was also relatively easy for scholars in at least some European countries to make research visits to the United States, and the radicalized among them often came to appreciate the value of archival research and the experimental method. Such visits opened up topics outside the framework of Atlantic connections, in publications that came more fully to the fore a little later, as the next section notes. As the passions of 1968 subsided and the prospects of political revolution receded, scholarly radicals settled for academic careers in which they joined the handful of liberal elders in promoting American history. Many became scholars "in between," registering U.S. historiographical trends while trying to speak to their own academic communities; their approaches often reflected the merging of European historical schools with a substantial dose of the pragmatism and experimentalism associated with U.S. practice.
At least this was the case in western Europe. Eastern Europe was different. In 1992, the Russian historian Nikolai N. Bolkhovitinov acknowledged that some 90 percent of Soviet Americanists had been "priests of the Marxist parish." It was not so much doctrinaire Marxism, he commented, as political propaganda that had seriously damaged historical studies. There was also institutional disruption. In East Germany and Poland, in contrast to the western European experience, English departments were closed in the ten years after 1945 because of political suspicions of an "imperialist language," removing potential bases for American subjects. With the passing of the Stalinist era, English was rehabilitated and American history became better established. In 1967, Georgy Arbatov helped found the influential Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies at the Soviet Academy of Sciences, which emphasized foreign policy and defense studies. Eastern European scholars generally worked within a Marxist framework, though their studies often rested more on self-censorship than political direction, so that, as an East German scholar slyly put it, "the more complicated and sophisticated the subject matter, the better." By the 1960s, Russian historians were paying attention not only to the class struggle but also to American democratic movements, leading to debate on the somewhat heretical notion that a capitalist state could initiate large-scale social reform.
A systematic analysis of this Soviet historiography, which saw the emergence of serious monographs in the 1950s, is not yet available, though Soviet scholars can claim to have written about the inequalities suffered by African Americans before revisionist U.S. historians took up the theme in a substantial way. Soviet scholars necessarily approached American studies through the prism of the Cold War, thus giving a higher profile than European countries with strong literary-cultural interests to international relations and political, economic, and historical studies. In examining the evolution of American capitalism, scholars probed the implications of Turner's frontier thesis and the role of religion and surveyed the class struggle as exemplified by labor history. The American Civil War received considerable attention, as did slavery and abolitionism. A few Americanist scholars consciously avoided what might be called enemy studies, inevitably largely twentieth-century history, perhaps seeking safety in earlier eras. Bolkhovitinov himself won an international reputation for work on the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, including studies of early Russian-American relations that also appeared in U.S. editions.
There were also tentative investigations of American matters elsewhere in eastern Europe. Scholars in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary sometimes explored such topics as emigration and the American experiences of their ethnic groups. Sympathies for the New World could not be entirely erased in these countries, and as in the Soviet Union, some scholars sought "safe" topics. Nonetheless, the procedures for securing degrees and promotion and the state ownership of publishers functioned as powerful constraints on studying American history. In some countries, such as in the Balkans, the safest strategy seemed to be to ignore it.
Atlantic Crossings and Expanding Scholarship, 1975-1990
The excitements of the sixties were critical in stimulating the study of American history in western Europe (as they also reshaped historical studies in the United States). But the larger environment changed again, in ways that affected the standing of the United States and attitudes toward it. If 1945 was one watershed for American history in Europe, the mid-1970s was another. The transformations of these years can be seen in a context of declining public trust in government in western societies, the apparent bankruptcy of Keynesianism, faltering economic growth, the wasting away of manufacturing, or "smokestack," industries and of labor unions, and the shortage of energy. The sense that the old world was disappearing was reinforced by the rise of new issues promoted by antipoverty, consumerist, environmental, youth, and women's movements. What Eric Hobsbawm has called "the golden age" was apparently over for the developed capitalist world.
The Vietnam War had considerably deepened the anti-Americanism of sections of the European population, and the fall of Saigon in 1975 marked an extraordinary humiliation of the United States. American power was limited; perhaps the twentieth century was not to be the American century after all. As the leading Dutch scholar Rob Kroes put it, the United States was "losing its magnetism" for Europeans. It was not yet just another country, but Europeans could feel that they were no longer obliged to choose between it and the Soviet Union. The erosion of images of a bipolar world was also associated with détente diplomacy, reflected in the Helsinki Accords of 1975. The missionary and partisan edge that had characterized some of the writing of American history in the early Cold War faded even as the subject gained firmer ground in Europe.
The Soviet regime somewhat relaxed its ideological supervision of teaching and research. Moscow State University inaugurated annual conferences on American literature and culture in 1974, and in the same year the Fulbright Program was extended to the Soviet Union, where David Cronon lectured on American social reform. A few years later, as a visiting professor, Robert Kelley found that while Soviet historians worked within the framework of historical materialism, the "days of Stalinist hacks grinding out mindless trash" seemed to be over. In 1976 the American Studies Center was created at Warsaw University, where Andrzej Bartnicki pioneered research efforts and sought links with U.S. universities. By the 1980s, American history specialists in Poland outnumbered those in American literature. The subject was given a boost in Romania in the second half of the 1970s when Romanian and U.S. historians met regularly in seminars and other professional gatherings. Even in East Germany, where the practice of history remained firmly grounded in "the fundamental ideals of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin," by the 1980s it was possible to discuss different opinions than the "one truth" of the Cold War years, and western Marxists such as Antonio Gramsci were accorded a hearing. Elsewhere, conditions were perhaps less encouraging. Bulgarian students were subjected to translations of approved Soviet Americanists and of such American authors as the Marxist historian Herbert W. Aptheker and the leading Communist William Z. Foster (who had written an outline political history of the Americas).
The American bicentennial celebrations caught the attention of intellectuals in both eastern and western Europe (one eventual product was Lewis Hanke's formidable Guide to the Study of United States History outside the U.S., 1945-1980). The bicentennial was duly commemorated on the Iberian Peninsula, where right-wing regimes had just crumbled, in Portugal in 1974 and Spain in 1975. (Greece also returned to democracy in 1974-75, after a long period of turbulence culminating in seven years of military rule.) As these countries moved toward openness and democratization, accompanied perhaps by a sense of optimism that contrasted with the somber mood elsewhere in western Europe, American subjects crept more fully into the curricula and pertinent archives became more accessible. The Spanish Association for Anglo-North American Studies was founded in 1976, albeit with a largely literary-linguistic focus. For their part, Spanish historians continued to view North American history within their traditional framework of the Americas, which tended to emphasize colonial, revolutionary period, and Atlantic history, in those areas once part of the Spanish empire (including Puerto Rico), but as their horizons expanded they also began to explore topics in U.S. foreign policy.
At much the same time, demographic and political pressures were transforming higher education across much of Europe, East and West. The growth and restructuring of universities took place at different times in different countries, but the commitment of many governments to expanded higher education sectors starting in the 1960s allowed some opportunity for new subjects to develop. Occasionally there was a strong institutional commitment, as with the creation of the Centre d'études nord-américaines at Paris's elite École des hautes études en sciences sociales in 1980. American history was hardly a priority in European higher education, but it now had some supporters in established posts, American cultural diplomacy remained a force, and, perhaps most important, there was growing student demand for it (in eastern and western Europe). On the Continent, where American subjects were often taught in English departments, which might hire historians as necessary, American studies programs developed, fitting neatly with the agenda of cultural diplomats. (Some members of political science departments also practiced American history.) Anglophone studies not only hosted history specialists but also turned some students into recognized historians. The tendency for American history to be located in what in effect were area studies units or groupings served to promote literary history and cultural studies. Such centers were receptive to the thrust of New Left history and ready to accommodate investigations into women's history, film, and popular culture.
Increasing pluralism in the choice of research subjects thus characterized the quarter century after 1975. Social and cultural history in its rich variety, including exercises in American studies, won adherents, and if the attention of sixties-style militants had tended to be directed toward twentieth-century topics, earlier periods now received more attention. The colonial era remained important, but the nineteenth century now gained a higher profile. European scholars were used to teaching across the whole span of American history, and several produced broad syntheses for their domestic audiences, which often had a dimension of at least implicit comparison with their home country. Whether they were more sensitive to the nuances of longue durée history than their U.S. counterparts is not easily established.
The Cold War may have assumed new configurations, but it was not going away, and countries in the forefront of Cold War alignments gave particular attention to their relationships with the United States. The role of the United States as a superpower ensured a growing and substantial scholarship on its foreign policy, by historians, political scientists, and international relations experts. But the old focus on connections remained vital. Russian scholars wrote on Russian America and on early Russian-American relations. Migration history boomed in West Germany, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, and elsewhere in the 1970s and 1980s, and countless British scholars explored Anglo-American relations. European countries that had once possessed North American colonies renovated the history of those dimensions or of continuing connections. (As earlier, much of this scholarship was not translated into English, making it relatively inaccessible to academics outside those countries.) Comparative history began to win practitioners, such as Peter Flora and Arnold J. Heidenheimer on welfare states and Jürgen Kocka on white-collar workers. A comparative perspective also informed the work of other German and Italian scholars, who advanced such concepts as organized capitalism and corporatism in attempts to explain the response of American industrial capitalism to crisis, as during the New Deal; implicit in some of this is the question of why the United States did not succumb to fascism during the 1930s.
But studies of "pure" American history were multiplying too, ranging from examinations of Jacksonian politics in Ohio and of party politics in early twentieth-century Wisconsin through the nomadism of the American working class and FDR's designs on the Supreme Court to American agriculture during World War II and McCarthyism in Hollywood. The Italian scholars Raimondo Luraghi and Valeria Gennaro Lerda published innovative studies of the American South. Such examples illustrate the degree to which European scholars were now escaping the connections framework and demonstrating a greater capacity and willingness to speak to an American audience. Nonetheless, the popularity of American political and constitutional history, an interest in labor history, and proliferating studies focused on race reflected continuing European predilections. Yet American history specialists were still parvenus among European academics. Wolfgang Helbich in 1985 compared the marginal existence of American history in the West German academy to that of Sanskrit and Egyptology.
Internationalization and Globalization, 1990 to the Present
By 1990 the geopolitical environment was again changing dramatically. The watersheds of 1945 and 1975 were being succeeded by another, which in particular suddenly transformed prospects for American history in eastern Europe. But it was not exclusively the countries of the old Soviet empire that felt the reverberations of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Historians on both sides of the Atlantic struggled to cast off the straitjacket of the Cold War. Indeed, the disintegration of such bipolar dichotomies as East and West and capitalism and communism surely eased the reformulation and vibrant growth of the distinctive field of Atlantic history, for example. New international networks brought new life to certain kinds of history, such as women's history. Transatlantic travel was now a commonplace, new electronic modes of communication were knitting the world together, and information of all kinds could be accessed from libraries and increasingly from home computers. The new technology powerfully reinforced the status of English as the modern lingua franca, giving scholars on the Continent greater incentive to master it and furthering both the teaching and the research of American history. In this context, David Thelen at the Journal of American History championed "the internationalization of American history," and Thomas Bender summoned scholars from around the world to Villa La Pietra in Florence to embark on "rethinking American history in a global age." A few years later President Barack Obama in his Cairo address stressed the global roots of the American nation. One study that exemplifies this vision is Francesca Viano's global history of the Statue of Liberty.
Location meant that the initiatives associated with Thelen and Bender were welcomed in Europe simply because European scholars had long engaged in what could be seen as forms of internationalizing American history. Frank Thistlethwaite's celebrated essay of 1960 on European migration had been in effect a call for what was later known as transnational history. European scholars were happy to move with the spirit of the times, and those in eastern Europe were happy to receive the aid and encouragement coming from the United States, though some were wary that the new U.S. initiatives could further American hegemony.
Publications on American history exploded in the 1990s and 2000s. In his 1985 Guide, Lewis Hanke listed more than three thousand books, articles, and dissertations on American history produced outside the United States between 1945 and 1980, the greater part of them in Europe. There is no army like the one Hanke mobilized available to establish an inventory of pertinent European publications since 1980 or 1990, but such a volume would be many times greater, as is the number of American specialists. We can attempt only a few cursory and selective observations on this scholarship.
There were changes in institutional contexts. While some countries, such as France and Norway, were able to maintain the interdisciplinary focus on American civilization, the original postwar connection between literature and history tended to weaken in others. Poland, Italy, Russia, and the newly reunited Germany, with their need to strengthen or rebuild liberal institutions, again accorded much attention to constitutional history and the history of political institutions and political thought. The Russian historian V. O. Pechatnov, for example, examined the Democratic Party's approach to the electorate. Historians in a few countries, though not abandoning American studies groups, have sought separate forums in which to pursue their discipline. Since 1993 there have been biennial conferences of European historians of the United States at Middelburg, in the Netherlands, courtesy of the hospitality of the Roosevelt Study Center there. In Germany and Poland, separate American history conferences began to meet on a regular basis. In the United Kingdom, two new, respective associations on nineteenth- and twentieth-century U.S. history were established, along with a less formal early American history group. On the other hand, more associations and centers of American studies (as opposed to American history) have appeared in the eastern European countries. If there was no divorce between political history and cultural studies, there was at least a measure of distancing.
A range of forces combined to underline the relevance of American history. In some countries, in keeping with the times, neoconservative historians emerged, emphasizing the virtues of the American capitalist economy or the centrality of the Atlantic tie for all Europeans. The interdependence between European public issues and American research and teaching subjects has remained vital. The young Polish historian Renata Nowaczewska points to the interest among her fellows in such subjects as migration history (now that Poland has become an immigrant country) and the political history of youth (reflecting their opposition to the former Communist regime). In Russia, as Ivan I. Kurilla and Victoria I. Zhuravleva have argued, the taste of scholars and students for Russian-U.S. comparative topics seems to derive from the status and problems of contemporary Russia as an international power. With the spread of the teaching of American history (and its growing student enrollments across Europe), student expectations have perhaps come to exert a greater impact on teaching and research agendas. As Sabine N. Meyer at Münster found, letting her students examine texts in American racial, ethnic, and immigration history gave them a sense of the salience of immigration and race issues in contemporary Germany; comparative approaches furthered not merely their fremdverstehen (understanding of the other) but also their selbstverstehen (understanding of themselves).Similarly, Paul Quigley, a British specialist on the American Civil War era teaching in Scotland, noted how the students' sensitivity to the cause of Scottish independence can stimulate discussion of the war, as they compare the confrontation between North and South with their own political situation. The constraints of language have sometimes reinforced this self-reflective characteristic of European writing and teaching. Eastern Europeans in particular could not expect that studies written in their languages, and often untranslated, would be read by western scholars.
The status of American history in eastern and east central Europe had changed dramatically, if not without difficulty. American studies, including history, grew in most former socialist countries, which sometimes used the arena of scholarship to signal regime change. Americanists were given important institutional positions in universities on occasion, on the apparent assumption that the U.S. academic model offered a way of liberalizing and modernizing scholarship (though the course of U.S. foreign policy ultimately served to cool this enthusiasm). Fulbright Programs had previously reached some eastern European countries-Poland as early as 1960, the Soviet Union in 1974, and Hungary in 1978-and when former Soviet countries became independent they sometimes secured one of their own, as Ukraine did in 1992. In Russia, although governmental financial support for U.S. history declined with the loss of its political salience, professional associations were formed and private sponsors sought, one product being the Franklin D. Roosevelt Foundation for the Study of U.S. History, established at Moscow University in 1998. Nonetheless, these were problematic times, not least because the harsh economic conditions in Russia encouraged an anti-Americanism stoked by the shock therapy demanded by the International Monetary Fund and U.S. advisers. Rather than focusing specifically on U.S. history, some Russian universities developed area or regional studies, of which American civilization formed a part. The Russian Association for the Study of the United States was founded in 1996 and soon published the proceedings of its annual conferences, on such themes as "the United States and the outer world" (1996) and "conflict and consensus in American society" (2003).
U.S. history took firmer institutional form elsewhere in eastern Europe. In the immediate post-Cold War years, American democratic forms and material culture could evoke a certain admiration (though such attitudes soon retreated before renewed anti-Americanism). In Poland there had been a growing corpus of American studies scholars since the mid-1970s, but access to scholarships and research archives greatly expanded after the 1990 founding of the Polish Association for American Studies. Poles became one of the larger research contingents at the John F. Kennedy Institute in Berlin, and books and articles followed. There was also a form of hybridization-in the mid-1990s, prominent U.S. and Polish academics jointly edited a five-volume history of the United States in Polish.
Poland helped to pioneer such studies in the former Communist bloc but was not alone. The Hungarian Association for American Studies appeared in 1992. In Romania, American studies took off in a modest way after the collapse of the Communist regime, but student enthusiasm was strong, encouraging Rodica Mihaila to publish a textbook on American civilization in 1994. The convention in some eastern European countries during the Cold War of largely disregarding U.S. history did not make its introduction easy. An Italian scholar teaching in Bulgaria found that his students, drawn from a range of Balkan countries, did not recognize the name of General George Custer. Born in the late 1980s or early 1990s, they possessed "little if no basic knowledge of American history['s] major facts: the United States remains a sort of unknown planet, except for some stereotyped notions." The dominant global role of the United States, and its implications for Europe, of course guaranteed the continued high profile of American foreign policy. In some former socialist countries, such as Hungary and Poland, scholars made concerted efforts to offer publications (sometimes in English) specifically designed to correct the one-sided picture of U.S. relations with eastern and central Europe. Russian scholars also took advantage of post-Cold War conditions to examine U.S. foreign policy and Russian-American relations afresh. Indeed, a high proportion of the recent Americanist scholarship in the former Communist countries has focused on the connections of the United States with those countries, replicating the pattern noted in western Europe in the immediate post-World War II decades.
There was a parallel on the Iberian Peninsula, where the rhythms of historiographical development often seemed closer to those of eastern Europe than of, say, Britain and Germany. This most recent period saw an explosion of Spanish publications on bilateral relations with the United States. Scholars in other parts of Europe may have been less preoccupied with such direct relationships, but they wrote extensively on the United States' role in the world. This tendency of foreign policy history to develop as part of international relations was illustrated by the Norwegian scholar Odd Arne Westad at the London School of Economics, who won the Bancroft Prize in American History in 2006 for The Global Cold War, one of many books that have helped to correct U.S.-centered analyses of world affairs. The growth of such scholarship has countered the tendency of some U.S. academics to cast their history from the perspective of the "only superpower" (or what the authors of chapter 6 call "U.S. power as projection").
While American political history has lost its former dominance among European scholars, circumstances have ensured that it is no less vital. The reunification of Germany, the reconstruction of political regimes in eastern Europe, and the uncertain course of the European Community have all reinforced the relevance of the political. In a curious way, European scholars have been more receptive than U.S. historians at home to the renewal of political history that some U.S. scholars have recently advanced (rather as the preceding European generation was particularly receptive to New Left history), and much of their work has remained state-centered. Traditional disciplinary boundaries may be less firm in Europe, where scholars sometimes migrate among history, politics, and international relations posts, and while historians may retain a strong sense of professional identity, they are often exposed to a range of methodological influences; the American studies programs also keep the borders open. A glance at the websites of European universities suggests the prominence of collaborative research projects, often drawing on people from different disciplines. Such conditions favor the interdisciplinarity associated with the American political development approach, discussed in chapter 3, and, as chapter 5 notes, the very context of European scholars, who can be expected to have some familiarity with their own country as well as with the United States, helps to promote comparative studies. Exercises in comparative history have continued to expand in recent years in Italy, Germany, and elsewhere. The recent "crisis of the welfare state" has also sparked its own historical scholarship, again illustrating European historians' readiness to undertake comparative studies and their frequent state-centered focus.
If European scholars were fairly naturally drawn to political and comparative history, their institutional contexts could also point them in other directions. In the years after 1990 the embedding of American history in area studies or American civilization programs, together with the rise of cultural history in the United States, facilitated the marked expansion of cultural and intellectual studies. Books and articles focusing on memory, images, film, consumption, and American studies itself appeared in goodly number. National historiographical traditions also left their mark. As Volker Depkat has pointed out, the influential historicist tradition in Germany meant that the "cultural turn" there generated rather abstract and theoretical debates, in contrast to the kind of cultural history written in the United States, which was conditioned by identity politics and culture wars. The cultural turn also drew attention to the medium of language, as in the recent Spanish scholarship on the Spanish language and Hispanic communities in the United States.
Also since around 1990, American and international historiographical trends, such as transnational and global history, have rather unexpectedly given new impetus to the historiography of connections that the earlier generation of European scholars pioneered. One important product has been the remarkable revival of Atlantic history, once championed in rather narrow form by the advocates of the Atlantic connection in the 1950s but now extensively reconceptualized and buoyed by the new interest in transnational themes. The old Atlantic history reflects the Churchillian notion of "the community of English-speaking peoples," but the new version, in theory, is the study of the Atlantic as a whole, of the four continents that its waters wash, the peoples that inhabit them, and the multiple networks they fashioned from the sixteenth to the early nineteenth century. One implication is that colonial history is not so much about European expansion as about a wider circulation of goods, ideas, and peoples around the Atlantic world. Cold War lenses now seem anachronistic. Russian excursions in the study of the North Pacific frontier have counterpointed the rise of Atlantic history.
Migration studies have also intensified as several European countries have experienced substantial immigration and racial tensions; studies of diasporas have flourished and been reconceptualized. A stress on the sense of commonality based on the link with the old home and the continued contact of different sorts with it has distinguished diasporic history: ethnic groups looked to the old country for families and spouses, news, money, favorite foods, and psychological sustenance. The explosion in the United States of books dealing with Asian and Latino immigration obliged European historians of emigration to reconsider their frame of reference. The phenomenon of Asian and Latin American migrants has prompted the concept of European immigrants-rather than a focus on migrants from particular European countries-susceptible of being compared with those from other parts of the world. In some studies of ethnic communities, an unanticipated hierarchy has emerged: Polish, Russian, and Italian immigrants, who were once frequently painted as the exploited in the new country, needing superhuman effort to lift themselves from marginality, can seem positively advantaged when placed against Latinos and some Asians, perhaps as ethnic businessmen exploiting the poorest newcomers and relatively well placed to "become white." Emigration to the United States is interpreted differently when seen as part of a worldwide circulation of peoples.
Contemporary ethnic tensions in Europe have also sustained and intensified interest in the history of American race relations. Long a constant in European historiography, the interest of European historians in such topics as civil rights, slavery, the South, the Civil War, and other aspects of race and ethnicity in North America has only grown. It was less the alleged absence of class struggles than the conspicuous presence of black slavery and Jim Crow laws that made the United States "exceptional" or distinctive, or so much European scholarship has implied.
Globalization, together with the thrust of cultural studies, served vividly to direct interest to the phenomenon of Americanization, an interest inseparable from renewed debate among some intellectuals on the idea that the United States and Europe are culturally profoundly different. After the turn of the century the backdrop to these studies was a pervasive anti-Americanism centered on (but not confined to) the foreign policy of George W. Bush. European authors in the past had often condemned or promoted Americanism, as when offering the United States as a model for a pluralist and democratic society. Later, when the United States became a major European power, Americanization supplanted Americanism in European discourse. In recent decades it has been apparent that American ways are in Europe to stay and are actively penetrating and changing European society, for better or for worse-increasingly, some thought, for worse. American models are now suspect. Americanization suggests an irresistible empire that allows for only limited bargaining space at the receiving end. Along with the linked topic of a new American imperialism, it has inevitably spawned considerable scholarship in Europe. A more hybrid historiography has argued instead for the idea of Westernization, insisting on a busy two-way street of influences moving to and fro across the Atlantic.
Nonetheless, as European historians of the United States have become more specialized and better able to interact with the American academy, they have embraced topics made salient by the course of U.S. historiography rather than by the particular promptings of the European context. This convergence of the U.S. and European academies is perhaps best illustrated by the increasing attention accorded to women's history. Its sharply enhanced importance since about 1990 owed something to the spread of international women's movements. As a recent study put it, "The post-Cold War emergence of transnational feminism as a new global subject has been one of the instrumental forces in rethinking women's history." Progress in Europe has been uneven, and chairs of women's or gender history have been slow to appear, possibly reflecting a reluctance to institutionalize it, but the growing number of women in the profession has helped the cause. Raffaella Baritono and Elisabetta Vezzosi complained in 2003 of the inadequate attention to American gender and women's history in Italy, although it is now significant there and in Germany and has made notable advances in Britain and Poland and modest progress in Spain, where it is cultivated mainly by scholars in English studies. In France the subject has seemed to make slower progress. Yet in seizing on this major strand of contemporary U.S. historiography, its practitioners in Europe have rendered a signal service to their Americanist colleagues. European scholars of American history had long felt marginal to their national academies, but the expansion of women's history, together with its transnational and interdisciplinary attributes, has done something to extricate them from this situation.
In recent decades something akin to a global community of historians of America has been created, in which members are subject to common historiographical influences and methodological standards. But geographical location and distance from the subject matter do make a difference. Issues in U.S. society and politics, which may have little relevance to Europeans, often shape U.S. historiographical debates. Detachment of a kind survives, partly because of the need of European scholars to address their own audiences, often in their own language. They are conditioned too by their own methodological traditions and academic and institutional environments, as discussed elsewhere in this volume. Some national academies, for example, place great emphasis on the careful formulation of research questions and the testing of hypotheses through extensive documentary analysis, so much so that one northern European scholar has jokingly remarked that his colleagues' view of U.S. historians is that "there is little to distinguish their work from historical fiction." Historiographical traditions vary, of course, and some early European writing about America approached the polemical and hardly looked like impartial scholarship; more recently, anti-American bias has often colored historiographical interpretations of U.S. foreign policy.
Europe reveals something about itself in the way that its historians write about the United States. Virtually from the beginning of the American republic, its constitutional forms commanded attention, their relevance constantly reasserted with successive recastings of European governments throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Europeans were deeply intrigued too by the role of race in the American experience, whether seen as a contradiction of the country's professed ideals, a consoling defect in an enviable story, or, more recently, a guide as certain European societies became multiracial and multiethnic. When Europeans first began writing American history, they addressed their publications primarily to their domestic audiences. Much of the early post-World War II scholarship focused on connections, and authors also offered their countrymen syntheses or historiographical guides based on the work of U.S. scholars. The pattern changed strikingly in the final quarter of the twentieth century. As American history became established in European universities and research visits to the United States became more viable, studies of domestic, or "pure," American history increasingly appeared, and its practitioners sought a wider audience, one very much including U.S. scholars. But in engaging with U.S. scholarship, these scholars also offered a perspective reflective of their location.
Among the characteristics that can be found in European exercises in American history since the Second World War are a degree of detachment from and selective use of U.S. historiographical debates, some skepticism of notions of American exceptionalism, and an attention to comparative history. At times, liberal or neoprogressive values have informed the scholarship in western Europe, an orientation that an engagement with the variegated forms of New Left history reinforced. This characteristic, like the Marxism of scholarship in eastern Europe, spoke to the domestic contexts of European authors who were often pursuing political agendas of their own. But the sense of mission associated with the liberals of the 1950s and the radicals of the 1960s eventually faded into the past, and the imperatives of Soviet ideology have disappeared too.
With the end of the Cold War, historians in both eastern and western Europe, like those in the United States, were no longer obliged to defend or condemn the world in which they were born. Europeans are now somewhat less beholden to the United States than they were in the immediate postwar period, and indeed in the first decade of the twenty-first century anti-American sentiment was as strong as it has ever been. A greater European self-consciousness has slowly surfaced, perhaps a compound of the imperatives for a stronger European Union and disenchantment with the United States, but there is no less interest in the academic practice of American history, which is flourishing. Whether a kind of pan-European perspective will emerge in this scholarship to temper the multiple local perspectives that have thus far characterized it remains to be seen. But in a global age, European and U.S. historians, and indeed historians from every continent, may together be able to develop a fresh and more contextualized vision of American history, one informed by insights rooted in a diversity of geographical and cultural locations.
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