Reconstruction in a Globalizing World

Reconstruction in a Globalizing World

Reconstruction in a Globalizing World

Reconstruction in a Globalizing World

Excerpt

Ian Tyrrell

The Reconstruction period is usually considered one of the most inward-looking periods in American history. When considered in international comparison, the years from 1865 to 1877 have a reputation as unique in mounting a thorough attempt to replace the institutions of slavery and institute liberal forms of equality. Momentous though the period was in the expropriation of slave-owners’ property and in granting freedom and civil rights to African-American people, that observation should not exclude historians from setting the Reconstruction period in the context of world history. the transition from unfree labor of various shapes and forms to free labor occurred across the Americas from the 1830s to 1880s, and also in Russia with the emancipation of the serfs between 1861 and 1866. Moreover, in the realm of national consolidation and state-building, the United States can be situated within the broader phenomenon of nationalism, both in Europe and beyond. Still another comparison can be found in the patterns of racial domination and new forms of coerced labor and racially stratified citizenship that replaced slave labor in the Americas.

Not all these matters are included in these essays, but a good many are. These contributions show that the actors in the great drama of Reconstruction often had an eye on what was going on abroad—both in the adjustment of relations between slave and free, and between “democracy” and forms of privilege that republican ideology described as “aristocracy.” the global re-shaping of the economic and political order as the world moved toward patterns of greater representation and inclusiveness of oppressed people as citizens is both a backdrop to American events and a way of better understanding those events. By highlighting these transnational connections, historians can re-enter the actual world that people inhabited. This was not a world of hermetically sealed units in which people thought only of nations, but a world of nations in the making, in which individual journeys across national boundaries, both material and intellectual, were common. of course, the variations in these experiences of the 1860s and 1870s in different countries were numerous, but these chapters show how events in Europe impacted American Reconstruction, and how foreigners were influenced by what they saw, heard, and read of the United States. Whether in the form of immigrant identification with German or Irish homelands, or common . . .

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