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About this book

The development of nationalism, movement of peoples, imperialism, industrialization, environmental change and the struggle for equality are all key themes in the study of both US history and world history. In this revised and updated new edition, Tyrrell explores the relationship between events and movements in the US and wider world.

Table of Contents

Introduction: US History as Transnational History

Abstract
Some say the United States was born free, but it was also born deeply connected — to the world, its peoples and its traditions — and has been wrestling with the consequences ever since. In the course of re-examining the manifold and intricate links of American history beyond the nation’s borders, this book necessarily questions common conceptions that Americans have held regarding their history. Stated baldly, policy-makers, publics, some textbooks and even a good many professional historians — when they generalize — have depicted the progressive shaping of a nation in which key developments occurred from the American Revolution to the early twentieth century. For much of this period, the nation grew along a trajectory determined primarily by domestic forces and debates, whether over republican institutions, democracy, slavery, economic growth or frontier expansion. Yes, the nation did draw upon European culture in obvious ways, but internal influences shaped the fundamentals of the American Republic. After securing its independence and fending off European interference in the early republican era, the nation moved from a nineteenth-century focus on continental economic and political development through to greater integration with the world community from the mid-twentieth century.
Ian Tyrrell

1. Born in the Struggles of Empires: The American Republic in War and Revolution, 1789–1815

Abstract
On October 8, 1789, Thomas Jefferson, American Minister Plenipotentiary to France, set sail from the grim port of Le Havre bound, via Cowes in the Isle of Wight, for the United States, thus ending 4 years of diplomatic service at a time of revolutionary change in France. Jefferson left his household in Paris, apparently intending to return, but fate intervened. On disembarking in Virginia in late November, Jefferson learned of President George Washington’s offer of the position of Secretary of State. This honour he received initially with ‘great regret’. Parrying the request, he ultimately responded favourably in late December to a second entreaty.1 By handling the matter in this way, Jefferson displayed a certain reluctance to abandon the pleasant and intellectually attractive life he had led in Paris.
Ian Tyrrell

2. Commerce Pervades the World: Economic Connections and Disconnections

Abstract
We are accustomed to think of the nineteenth-century United States as a nation that in economic matters did not need the rest of the world. The abundant frontier provided the resources that Americans demanded, and the home market supplied by a growing population created economies of scale for the growth of business. This interpretation is backed by statistics on trade. Whereas some European countries ‘commonly relied upon exports’ to dispose of 20–30 per cent of their domestic output, US exports remained mainly between ‘6 and 7 per cent of GNP and slowly declined over time’. Relatively speaking, one authority puts it, ‘the U.S. depended far less on [external] trade’ than did European countries.1 Yet it would be wrong to conclude from these figures that the US economy was unconnected globally.
Ian Tyrrell

3. The Beacon of Improvement: Political and Social Reform

Abstract
Ideas travel just as money and trade can cross frontiers. In the last chapter we discovered how closely the United States was linked internationally in the first half of the nineteenth century through economics. The improved communications that channelled commerce also brought ideas, immigrants and visitors. One of the best remembered visitors was Alexis de Tocqueville, who toured North America in 1831, from New York City as far north as Quebec and south to New Orleans, filling many notebooks on the politics and social structure of the antebellum republic. His grand theme was the radical experiment of American democracy and its implications for Europe. Political democracy should not, Tocqueville understood, be construed narrowly. Rather, it was rooted in voluntary associations and social reform. This makes it appropriate to link reform movements and political democracy as elements in transnational exchanges aimed at improving society. Despite indigenous impulses within American reform movements, there was a transatlantic pattern of reform in the first 60 years of the nineteenth century. Not only were European impacts upon the development of reform important, but equally influential were American efforts to export reform ideas, institutions and movements to Britain and continental Europe. American reform activity, however, was never entirely limited to North Atlantic circuits of trade. Reform aspirations became for Americans increasingly global.
Ian Tyrrell

4. People in Motion: Nineteenth-Century Migration Experiences

Abstract
Americans have normally conceived of migration as a one-way process. Immigrants entered Castle Garden (and later Ellis Island) in New York from Europe to begin the painful and inevitable process of losing their culture and assimilating in a melting-pot process. Yet the resistance of immigrants to rapid assimilation makes the melting pot too crude an idea. Nowadays other metaphors prevail, designed to represent the diverse origins and interwoven cultures of Americans. Modern historians tend to see the United States as a salad bowl, a quilt or a continuing conversation over national identity. The new multiculturalism recognizes important transnational influences in the making of immigration, but to a large degree the nation’s internal social history is still treated as distinct from migration considered as an economic and cultural system. The legal frameworks of immigration created national boundaries, but until 1924, there were few controls over immigration, and none except for those against Asian people were effective before the First World War. For this reason alone the transnational aspects of migration stand out, not only as a diverse process, but also as a reciprocal and multilateral one. Topics such as internal geographical and social mobility are also difficult to separate from migration’s ebbs and flows. It is preferable to think, therefore, of immigration as part of a larger system of ‘movement’ made possible by global changes in communications and market dislocation.1
Ian Tyrrell

5. Unwilling Immigrants and Diaspora Dreams

Abstract
The experience of slavery was one of the most obvious ways linking the United States to the rest of the world in the era of the new American Republic. Slavery supplied the labour force driving the cotton production that fuelled the British textile industry, the world’s leading manufacturing industry in the world’s leading industrial economy. The slaves, numbering 1 million in 1810 and reaching nearly 4 million by the eve of the Civil War, were all either imported from Africa or, far more commonly, descended from Africans. Brought by European traders not only from West Africa, but also from Angola and as far afield as Madagascar, the ‘unwilling immigrants’ of eighteenth-century slavery were part of a much larger European trade of some 10–11 million slaves captured and shipped across the Atlantic from the time of Columbus. In turn, these transatlantic cargoes represented one, albeit large, segment of a global slave market that spread as far east as the Dutch East Indies and involved African and Arab traders as well as Europeans.1
Ian Tyrrell

6. Racial and Ethnic Frontiers

Abstract
Case one: Frances Slocum, captured by Delaware Indians in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania in 1778, was adopted by an Indian family and named for their own recently dead daughter. She vanished without trace from white society. Frances’s natural mother grieved the loss throughout her life and on her deathbed in 1807 charged the surviving children to find their sister and bring her home. The brothers pursued her on and off, but unbeknown to them, Slocum had married into a Miami Indian tribe in 1794. After many false leads, the family made contact in 1837. But at the tearful reunion at Slocum’s tribal village in Indiana, the long-lost sister would not agree to return to white society. Despite the impending doom of the Miami in the area, she chose to stay with her people. ‘They cannot live out of the forest’, her mixed-race daughter stated of her family.1 Cases of Indian captivity where the victims chose to remain in Indian society suggested that, for some poor whites and mixed-race people on the frontier, Indian society could be an attractive place because it lay outside the vicissitudes of the market economy. Certainly Indian society could fascinate whites as well as repel them.2 Indian—white relations were at the time of the early Republic more complex than a simple binary opposition.
Ian Tyrrell

7. America’s Civil War and Its World Historical Implications

Abstract
The place of the Civil War within American culture is secure, and that place is reflected in the name and the stature of the event in American memory. The very term ‘Civil War’ suggests an internal conflict, whereas the preferred Southern appellations, the War Between the States or the War for Southern Independence, connote a struggle between two would-be nations. This particular Civil War itself betrays, as a concept, a slight hint of insularity in another way, as it is not in normal discussion preceded by the word ‘American’. In American debates, the absent word is taken for granted, whereas the English or Russian civil wars require geographic clarification. The volume of scholarship compounds the problem. Other dirty and bloody civil wars litter the pages of history, but we know so much more about this one fratricidal conflict. This insularity reflects the war’s huge dimensions in proportion to population. Six hundred and twenty thousand dead is an impressive number in so far as it dwarfed in its rate of casualties per capita all other American wars, thus supplying a simple but accurate explanation of the war’s importance in American memory. Brother against brother, neighbour against neighbour, so the maudlin legend goes. The awful tragedy cannot be denied. The rate of casualties was, however, not unique. It was no greater than that suffered by armies in the First World War and deaths paled beside the contemporaneous Chinese Taiping Rebellion (1851–64), where some 20 million may have perished.1
Ian Tyrrell

8. How Culture Travelled: Going Abroad, c. 1865–1914

Abstract
The decade after the Civil War witnessed simultaneous and yet contradictory trends. Freed from the pressures of the possible break-up of the Union and European meddling in Mexico, the United States could complete the removal of the Indians and settle the West. Attention turned towards internal development, with the United States developing a large domestic market by the late nineteenth century and investment in railroads vastly exceeding that in sea transport. The broad lines of the nation’s geographical expanse had already been marked out. With the exception of Alaska in 1867, no further additions to American territory were made until 1898. Meanwhile, territory after territory acquired in 1803 and 1848 won admission to the union. Yet at the same time, the 1860s to 1880s saw a pattern of increased contacts abroad in business, tourism, reform and cultural life. Despite the conventional picture of the era as one of continentalism, these were not decades in which the transnational context and connections of the United States were neglected. Rather, Americans prepared the pattern for the more visible global expansionism of the 1890s and beyond.
Ian Tyrrell

9. Building the Nation-State in the Progressive Era: The Transnational Context

Abstract
Traditionally, historians have either neglected American nationalism or treated it as unproblematic and fundamentally different from its European cousins. This sharp divide may reflect the impact upon conceptions of that nationalism drawn from ideas of American exceptionalism. But the inconvenient fact remains that many nations have seen themselves as unique. In recent decades, historians have emphasized the contingency of nation-state formation, rather than simply accepting its development as self-evident.1 In making any reassessment of the American case, an important distinction must be made between the growth of nationalism and the growth of the state. Put schematically, the nineteenth-century American state was relatively weak on the federal level, while popular nationalism rooted in republican ideology was stronger. In contrast, European nationalism tended to be the creation of central states and their intellectuals proclaiming mythical national pasts. Yet despite this difference, the two systems tended to converge in the late nineteenth century with the consolidation of European nation-states and the rise of imperialism.
Ian Tyrrell

10. The Empire That Did Not Know Its Name

Abstract
Empire has been one of the most transnational and commonplace aspects of modern history. Though independent from Britain, the United States of the nineteenth century did not escape this history. Formally and informally, the nation acquired colonies, annexed territories and took de facto control of other areas. Yet American Empire displayed differences and ambiguities that one would expect from a country so professedly opposed to empire and so favoured by material circumstances to avoid its overt manifestations over much of the nation’s history. If the United States became an empire in the nineteenth century, its exact borders were difficult to pin down. Historically, they were flexible, permeable and constantly changing. These ‘borders’ shifted as a result of constant pressures within the United States to expand, both culturally and economically. That said, it is important not to depict American Empire as purely a process of informal commercial penetration of other lands. This chapter’s focus will not be simply upon ‘expansion’ as is common in the literature under the legacy of the work of William Appleman Williams and the Williams School, which saw economic and ideological motives of trade and the Open Door policy of equal access to markets of all nations as critical.1 Empire was multilateral and reciprocal. It involved ruling as well as expansion and cultural exchange rather than simple outward thrust. The acquisition of empire had consequences for domestic culture and politics that will be considered here.
Ian Tyrrell

11. The New World Order in the Era of Woodrow Wilson

Abstract
The summer of 1914 was calm enough along the eastern seaboard. The Boston Braves, ancestor team of the Atlanta Braves, were on track for the baseball world series and all was apparently well with the world of Americans. Nevertheless, the diplomatic and political impact of the fatal shots at Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 was quickly felt across the Atlantic. True, the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 did not directly affect the United States. After all, the nation had a long tradition of non-involvement in European power politics. President Wilson at once proclaimed neutrality, highlighting, interestingly enough, not the precepts of George Washington against foreign entanglements but the transnational allegiance of Americans. Drawn as they were from many nations opposed in the conflict, the American people must of necessity practice non-involvement.1 To do otherwise would tear the country apart. Yet as a trading nation with a strong international commerce, the war was bound to affect the United States. The war intensified conflicts within American society just as Wilson feared, but also strengthened the American state and a sense of national exceptionalism as well as spurring a vigorous projection outward of new forms of cultural, economic and political expansionism in the period after 1919. This expansion was based upon an altered relationship with Europe and the wider world. Woodrow Wilson would be at the centre of this new influence through his articulation of a new American ‘internationalism’.2
Ian Tyrrell

12. Forces of Integration: War and the Coming of the American Century, 1925–1970

Abstract
In 1943, Wendell Willkie, the defeated Republican Presidential candidate of 1940, wrote a book telling the story of his 49-day goodwill mission around the world as an emissary for the US government in the depths of the Second World War. One World emphasized common human aspirations for economic development, an end to European empires, and self-determination as the basis for peaceful cooperation between peoples. A publishing juggernaut selling over 3 million copies, the book demonstrated growing American awareness of the nation’s new international leadership. Translated into many languages, Willkie’s book was an important turning point at which Americans accepted the global interconnectedness that had become obvious as early as the First World War. As Willkie put it, ‘There are no distant points in the world any longer.’1 War and aeroplanes had seen to that. Yet Americans would use that moment in history to project an asymmetrical version of their relations with the wider world. In 1941, publisher Henry Luce had proclaimed ‘An American Century’ in Life magazine. That phrase and its implications were much discussed. Luce urged an expansive, missionary approach to political and cultural relations, in which the world would be rewritten in the image of the United States. The attempt to engage the world explicitly and remake it was not new; it was well under way in the 1920s. It would be a phase of American power not completed until the 1970s. Though controversial and contested by Progressives such as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Vice-President Henry Wallace from 1941 to 1945, Luce’s mindset tended to prevail in government policy. ‘One World’ turned out in the American vision of the future to be an American world.
Ian Tyrrell

13. Insular Impulses: Limits on International Integration, 1925–1970

Abstract
While elites and governments preached multilateralism in alliance, military and trade policies, less integration occurred on the people-to-people level. The American population came to know less of foreign countries in this period as education and travel patterns changed to more nation-centred ones, as media interest in things foreign changed scope and content, and as immigration and other transnational links inherited from before the First World War diminished. The cultural impact of the Cold War had a similar insular effect through fear, though it also revealed, as shown in succeeding pages, how great power rivalries affected the Civil Rights struggle at home. Ironically, the rituals, traditions and laws that government had deployed for several decades enhanced insularity. The heightened tension over insularity versus integration was a product of history — notably through the impact of immigration policy Our departure point takes us back to the 1920s. The restructuring of nationhood around racial exclusions in 1924 made the middle decades of the twentieth century very different from the nineteenth.
Ian Tyrrell

14. From the 1970s to New Globalization: American Transnational Power and Its Limits, 1971–2001

Abstract
What shall we remember of the millennium’s last 30 years? Most likely for Americans the personal world of family and community will be recalled first, but sometimes the personal and the political come together in images of national experience. The passage of time in these years evokes strong memories. Imagine a fast-forward compilation of television clips concerning the United States in the wider world. A president’s rapprochement with China; American helicopters leaving Saigon as the North Vietnamese advance; long lines forming at gasoline pumps as fuel from the Middle East runs short; the nation’s chief of state resigning on screen; a hostage crisis in Iran; an ex-film-star president denouncing the Soviet Union as an ‘evil empire’; a wall tumbling in Berlin; burnt-out tanks on the road from Kuwait to Baghdad; stock-market charts indicating a dot-com revolution; a terrorist-damaged American ship; a blown-up embassy; an Israeli and a Palestinian leader shaking hands at the White House; and much more. Some of these images would not make a similar list in 200, let alone 2000, years. Yet behind surface events, national power and the global position of the United States were becoming intertwined, and it is important to discern the structural changes underlying commonplace headline stories.
Ian Tyrrell

Epilogue: ‘Nothing Will Ever Be the Same’: 9/11 and the Return of History

Abstract
According to the conventional wisdom, the world changed irrevocably on September 11, 2001. ‘Nothing will Ever be the Same’, shouted the headline from a Philadelphia newspaper.1 Evidence of new policies on civil liberties, the treatment of prisoners, the impact of global terrorism, a more assertive sense of national identity and novel foreign and military policies abounded. But the response to the event displayed important continuities with the past and expressed longer-term shifts in Americans’ transnational relationships. The nature and repercussions of the attack showed how interconnected the world had become economically and culturally. The attackers had been foreigners, resident in the United States as students. The attack had been planned transnationally and represented the efforts of a wing of the global Islamic diaspora discontented with American Middle East policy. More broadly, Islamic militants resented the huge challenges that globalization had brought to their religion, societies and traditional worldviews — against which they violently reacted. The results of the attack were likewise multicultural and transnational. Among the roughly 2700 people killed at the World Trade Center, about one-tenth were non-Americans and still others were Americans of recent foreign origin or multicultural descent.
Ian Tyrrell
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