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Rethinking American History in a Global Age

Thomas Bender (Editor)

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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 called globalization is 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 Age advances 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.
Introduction. Historians, the Nation, and the Plenitude of Narratives
Thomas Bender

Part I. Historicizing the Nation
Part II. New Historical Geographies and Temporalities
Part III. Opening the Frame
Part IV. The Constraints of Practice

Appendix. Participants in the La Pietra Conferences, 1997–2000
Thomas Bender is University Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History at New York University. He is the author of Intellect and Public Life: Essays on the Social History of Academic Intellectuals in the United States (1993), New York Intellect: A History of Intellectual Life in New York City, from 1750 to the Beginnings of Our Own Time (1988), and Community and Social Change in America (1978) and the editor of The Antislavery Debate: Capitalism and Abolitionism as a Problem in Historical Interpretation (California, 1992).
“These new views of certain elements . . . offer a refreshing look at a variety of topics. . . the book has merit.”—Henry H. Goldman Books For The Western Library
"In One eloquent essay after another, some of the wisest historians of our time write American history in a grand cosmopolitan context. From the era of discovery to the present, histories that we thought we knew—of labor, of race relations, of politics, of gender relations, of diplomacy, of ethnicity—are more richly understood when causes and consequences are traced throughout the globe. One emerges invigorated, ready to welcome a new American history for a new international century."—Linda K. Kerber, author of No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship

"Rethinking American History in a Global Age is an extremely stimulating and thought-provoking collection of essays written by leading historians who offer wider contexts for illuminating the traditional themes and issues of American national history. Particularly impressive is the book's combination of caution and original, sometimes daring insights."—David Brion Davis, author of In the Image of God: Religion, Moral Values, and Our Heritage of Slavery

"For decades American historians have been urging one another to place our culture in comparative or transnational perspective. Thomas Bender's unique volume includes not only essays theorizing such efforts and essays exemplifying such work at its most successful and its most provocative, it also provides more skeptical assessments questioning whether American historians can meet the challenge of overcoming our longstanding national preoccupations. Rethinking American History in a Global Age is an indispensable book that will shape the work of a rising generation of historians whose horizons will extend beyond our own shores."—James T. Kloppenberg, author of The Virtues of Liberalism
List of Contributors

THOMAS BENDER is university professor of the humanities at New York University. His work has focused on cities, intellectuals, cultural history, and questions of narrative synthesis. His books include Toward an Urban Vision: Ideas and Institutions in Nineteenth-century America (1975); New York Intellect: A History of Intellectual Life in New York City, from 1750 to the Beginnings of Our Own Time (1987), and Intellect and Public Life: Essays on the Social History of Academic Intellectuals in the United States (1993). He co-edited American Academic Culture in Transformation: Fifty Years, Four Disciplines, with Carl E. Schorske (1998).

CHARLES BRIGHT is professor of history at the Residential College, University of Michigan. He works on the history of globalization (in collaboration with Michael Geyer), as well as problems in American political history, prison history, and the history of Detroit. His most recent book is The Powers that Punish: Prison and Politics in the Era of the "Big House," 1920-1955 (1996).

PRASENJIT DUARA is professor in the departments of History and East Asian Language and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. His work explores problems in social history, nationalism, transnationalism, and the implications of theory for historical questions. His books include Culture, Power and the State: Rural Society in North China, 1900-1942 (1988) and Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China (1995). He is presently completing a book tentatively titled Frontiers of the East Asian Modern: Authenticity and Sovereignty in Manchukuo.

WINFRIED FLUCK is professor and chair of American culture at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies of the Freie Universität Berlin. His work has focused on American realism, American popular culture, the postmodern period, and the theory of American studies. His books include Ästhetische Theorie und literaturwissenschaftliche Methode: Eine Untersuchung ihres Zusammenhangs am Beispiel der amerikanischen Huck Finn-Kritik (1975); Inszenierte Wirklichkeit: Der amerikanische Realismus, 1865-1900 (1992); and Das kulturelle Imaginäre (1997). He is currently working on a history of American culture.

MICHAEL GEYER is professor of history at the University of Chicago. His work has focused on military history and the history of war, contemporary German history, and (together with Charles Bright) on the history of globalization. Writings on the latter include Geyer and Bright, "Global Violence and Nationalizing Wars in Eurasia and the Americas: The Geopolitics of War in the Mid-Nineteenth Century," Comparative Studies in Society and History 38 (1996), and "World History in a Global Age," American Historical Review 100 (1995).

DIRK HOERDER teaches North American social history and the history of migrations at the University of Bremen, Department of Social Sciences. His publications include Labor Migration in the Atlantic Economies: The European and North American Working Classes during the Period of Industrialization (1985); Creating Societies: Immigrant Lives in Canada (1999) and Cultures in Contact: European and World Migrations, Eleventh Century to the 1990s (forthcoming).

DAVID A. HOLLINGER is Chancellor's Professor of History at the University of California at Berkeley. He works primarily on the intellectual history of the United States in the twentieth century. His books include Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism (1995; 2d ed., 2000); Science, Jews, and Secular Culture (1996); and, co-edited with Charles Capper, The American Intellectual Tradition: A Sourcebook (1989; 4th ed., 2001).

AKIRA IRIYE is Charles Warren Professor of American History at Harvard University. His main areas of interest are twentieth-century international relations with a focus on nongovernmental actors and, more broadly, the history of globalization. His publications include China and Japan in the Global Setting (1992); The Globalizing of America (1993); and Cultural Internationalism and World Order (1997).

WALTER JOHNSON is an associate professor of history and American studies at New York University. His work focuses on capitalism, race, and resistance, mostly in the nineteenth century and mostly in the U.S. South. He is the author of Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market (2000), and is currently at work on a cultural history of the Mississippi River Valley.

ROBIN D.G. KELLEY is professor of history and Africana studies at New York University. His research interests include the history of the African diaspora, twentieth-century black intellectual and cultural history, and U.S. labor movements. His books include Race Rebels: Culture Politics and the Black Working Class (1994); Yo' Mama's DisFunktional! Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America (1997); and, with Howard Zinn and Dana Frank, Three Strikes (2001).

ROB KROES is professor and chair of American studies at the University of Amsterdam. He is the author of If You've Seen One, You've Seen The Mall: Europeans and American Culture (1996) and of Us and Them: Questions of Citizenship in a Globalizing World (2000), as well as the editor of Predecessors: Intellectual Lineages in American Studies (1999).

KAREN ORDAHL KUPPERMAN is professor of history at New York University. Her work focuses on early America, particularly cross-cultural efforts at interpretation and the challenge posed by transplantation of European societies. Her books include Settling with the Indians: The Meeting of English and Indian Cultures in America, 1580-1640 (1980); Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony (1984); Providence Island, 1630-1641: The Other Puritan Colony (1993), and Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America (2000).

RON ROBIN teaches American history and communication theory. He is currently dean of students at the University of Haifa, Israel. His books include Enclaves of America: The Rhetoric of American Political Architecture Abroad (1992); The Barbed Wire College: Reeducating German POWs in the United States (1995); and The Making of the Cold War Enemy: Culture and Politics in the Military-Intellectual Complex (2001).

DANIEL RODGERS teaches American cultural and intellectual history at Princeton University, where he is Henry Charles Lea Professor of History. He is the author of The Work Ethic in Industrial America, 1850-1920 (1978); Contested Truths: Keywords in American Politics since Independence (1987); and Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (1998).

IAN TYRRELL is professor and head of school at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia. He has done research on many aspects of American historiography and history, especially regarding social movements. His books include Woman's World/Woman's Empire: The Woman's Christian Temperance Union in International Perspective (1991) and True Gardens of the Gods: Californian-Australian Environmental Reform (1999).

FRANÇOIS WEIL is directeur d'études at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris. His research interests include North American historiography, urban and industrial social history, migrants, and the cultural history of genealogy. Among his books are Les Franco-Americains, 1860-1980 (1989) and Histoire de New York (2000).

ROBERT H. WIEBE died on December 10, 2000. He was a member of the History Department of Northwestern University History Department from 1960 to 1997, when he "officially" retired. His numerous books, which delve widely and deeply into the meaning of the American past, include The Search for Order, 1977-1920 (1967); The Segmented Society: An Introduction to the Meaning of America (1975); The Opening of American Society: From the Adoption of the Constitution to the Eve of Disunion (1985); Self-Rule: A Cultural History of American Democracy (1996). Who We Are: A History of Popular Nationalism is scheduled for publication in 2001.

MARILYN B. YOUNG is professor of history at New York University. Her work has focused on U.S. foreign policy in Asia and Southeast Asia and her books include Rhetoric of Empire (1968); (with William Rosenberg) Revolutionary Struggle in the Twentieth Century (1980); and The Vietnam Wars (1991).

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