Historians across Borders: Writing American History in a Global Age

Historians across Borders: Writing American History in a Global Age

Historians across Borders: Writing American History in a Global Age

Historians across Borders: Writing American History in a Global Age

Synopsis

In this stimulating and highly original study of the writing of American history, twenty-four scholars from eleven European countries explore the impact of writing history from abroad. Six distinguished scholars from around the world add their commentaries.

Arguing that historical writing is conditioned, crucially, by the place from which it is written, this volume identifies the formative impact of a wide variety of institutional and cultural factors that are commonly overlooked. Examining how American history is written from Europe, the contributors shed light on how history is written in the United States and, indeed, on the way history is written anywhere. The innovative perspectives included in Historians across Borders are designed to reinvigorate American historiography as the rise of global and transnational history is creating a critical need to understand the impact of place on the writing and teaching of history.

This book is designed for students in historiography, global and transnational history, and related courses in the United States and abroad, for US historians, and for anyone interested in how historians work.

Excerpt

History is all explained by geography.

—Robert Penn Warren

Perhaps the most famous European observer of new worlds—and certainly the most beloved of generations of children—was Lemuel Gulliver, the crotchety old seafarer who returned to England in the early eighteenth century. His fantastical tales of the miniature people of Lilliput and the giants of Brobdingnag, the flying island of Laputa and the savage Houyhnhnms, captured the public imagination then and have never been out of print since. Jonathan Swift’s rather subversive purpose in writing Gulliver’s Travels, of course, was to use the fictional traveler’s consideration of foreign lands to critique the structure and ideological presuppositions of society more generally—an aim so subversive, in fact, that Swift took precautions to ensure that there was no evidence to prove he was the author.

This book is (sadly for the reader) less subversive in its intent and (sadly for the authors) less likely to have such an enduring publication record. Even so, it takes as its departure point what soon became a standard trope after Gulliver: the outsider as privileged observer. in modern times, few countries have been more observed than the United States, and few countries have sent more observers there than those in Europe—Alexis de Tocqueville, James Bryce, Sándor Bölöni Farkas, Henryk Sienkiewicz, and numerous others have followed in Gulliver’s fictional footsteps to observe a new world that was often as imagined as it was real. Professional historians arrived in the early twentieth century, their ranks swelled dramatically in the mid- and late century, and . . .

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