Rethinking America in a Global Perspective
Letter from the Directors
Institute: Rethinking America in Global Perspective
Location: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Directors: John R. Gillis (Rutgers University, emeritus) and Carl Guarneri (St. Mary’s College of California)
Meetings: June 16 - July 11, 2008
Thank you for your interest in our summer institute, Rethinking America in Global Perspective, sponsored by the American Historical Association and the National History Center, and hosted by the Library of Congress. Our engagement with this most exciting and significant subject arises from our own teaching and scholarly interests. One of us (Carl Guarneri) has been a prominent proponent of globalizing American history and the author of America in the World: United States History in Global Context. He has conducted previous NEH summer seminars for teachers. The other (John Gillis) has written extensively on comparative and transnational themes and has taught courses in global history centered on the Atlantic world. He is a member of the American Historical Association’s Conference Group on Inter-Area Studies. Having offered an earlier version of this institute in 2005, which was not only a productive session but also a truly memorable group collaboration, we have high hopes for an equally stimulating and enjoyable series of meetings in 2008.
Both of us feel that at this moment global history is the most dynamic sector of historical studies for both teaching and research. The opportunity to pursue global connections and to open broader vistas promises to transform traditional nation-based historical narratives. As historians Michael Geyer and Charles Bright remind us, “in idea and practice, America was always larger, more boundless than the United States, and in this respect always a global nation.” Internationalizing American history is not an effort to displace United States history but a way to enrich it by exploring the ways America’s story has always been one of interaction and mutual influence with other regions of the world. Thus, while our baseline definition of “America” is the territory that eventually became the United States, we seek to widen the context for understanding its history by examining it as a part of the Western hemisphere and by charting its transoceanic ties.
We take seriously the recent recommendations of the Organization of American Historians that teachers “look beyond the official borders of the U.S. and back again.” We are heartened by the recent surge in scholarship connecting American history to the rest of the world, some of it written by scholars who will join our institute as guest lecturers. The support of the American Historical Association (www.historians.org) and the National History Center (www.nationalhistorycenter.org) reinforces the urgency of rethinking the temporal and spatial boundaries of America at a time when world history is becoming the fastest growing area in the curriculum at all levels of American education.
We are looking forward to working with participants who are eager to explore this newest frontier of research and to apply their discoveries to their own teaching. In an era when so many college students are foreign-born and when so many native-born Americans study and work abroad, it is a propitious time to rethink the spatial and chronological boundaries of America. This involves creating dialogues not only within history itself, but between it and other disciplines. Thus we are encouraging applications not only from all areas of American history, but from geographers, American studies teachers, archaeologists, anthropologists, and area studies specialists. We are eager to have teachers from both two- and four-year institutions, representing all regions of the United States.
We therefore welcome your participation in what we think will be a most exciting four weeks of lectures, discussions, and research at the country’s premier research library and in a city of unparalleled cultural resources. As directors, we are looking forward to exploring with you a subject of immense scope and endless possibilities, a field whose boundaries are still being mapped and over which no one can yet claim to be the final authority. We look upon the institute as a kind of joint venture in which you are partners with us in defining and exploring a new kind of history.
We have chosen as faculty for the institute leading figures from American, European, and global history, who are known for both their teaching abilities and their scholarly excellence. The way that our program is arranged allows plenty of time for you to explore a topic of your own choice in a setting where you will have access not only to immense archival and printed resources, but also to several internationally renowned experts. We anticipate that you will return to your home institutions not only reinvigorated by your own work, but with a treasure trove of ideas to share with your students and colleagues.
The Institute The institute will be structured around four week-long segments, each involving a week’s lectures, discussions, and workshops, beginning with the Americas before 1776 and culminating with the current world situation. We will meet four mornings a week, usually Monday through Thursday. Several of these sessions will be led by guest faculty, whose lectures will be followed by discussions, which will also be based on our common readings. Every week there will also be a morning time set aside for small-group workshops and discussions of curriculum development. Afternoons and most Fridays will be given over to independent study. In the final week of the institute, all participants will report on their research in progress and there will be a general discussion of implications of our work for future teaching and research. The directors will meet individually with all participants during the first week and will be available for consultation during the duration of the institute.
In the course of four weeks we will have the opportunity to consider issues of scale and context, exploring ways to take into account lands and places that have long been a part of the American dynamic without actually being within its political borders. We will also be examining ways to alter conventional chronologies, making them more sensitive to large processes like biological exchanges, mass migration, and industrialization. Participants will be asked to prepare for the institute by reading Felipe Fernandez-Armesto’s The Americas: A Hemispheric History (2003) and Thomas Bender’s A Nation Among Nations: America’s Place in World History (2006), together with a few key articles by Guarneri, Rodgers, and Geyer and Bright related to the internationalization of American history. You will also find useful Thomas Bender’s edited volume, Rethinking American History in a Global Age (2002). We will be providing you with copies of these and other readings prior to the beginning of the institute.
The first segment, which covers pre-history to 1776, offers us the opportunity to explore the newest literature on the biological and human encounters that made the Americas not just European, but African and Asian frontiers. We are privileged to have among our visiting faculty scholars who are doing the most innovative work in this and other periods. Charles Mann will share with us his dramatic findings about North America’s pre-contact cultures and ecologies. We will explore with Elizabeth Mancke the ways in which the eventual shape and chronology of the United States were contingent on imperial history and other factors originating outside what are now the borders of the continental United States. In this week we will also follow the lead of recent scholars in investigating the various historical and geographical middle grounds in which Native Americans, many of them organized as “nations,” negotiated their presence before being organized by outside powers. Finally, discussion of the Atlantic trading system, migration, and the slave trade will demonstrate ways in which the Americas were connected to other continents and to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Laurent Dubois, the author of a prize-winning book on the Haitian Revolution, will help us to understand the central role of slavery and the Caribbean in early American history.
Having established the connectedness of the Americas to other world regions, we will then turn to the age of nation-building, 1776-1898. Here we have the opportunity to compare U.S. patterns with Latin American nations and Australasian societies as well as with developments in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. And we will see the beginnings of modern economic globalization, in which America was a major participant on a variety of different levels. Professor Eliga Gould of the University of New Hampshire, whose work on British/American interactions opens up the transnational character of this era, will lead our discussion of the age of democratic revolutions. Carl Guarneri’s presentation will demonstrate how the westward movement and its settler-native interactions paralleled frontier expansion in other European “settler societies” such as Canada, Australia, and Argentina. Examining the vast migrations from Europe and Asia in the nineteenth century that made this a multicultural, multilingual nation, historian Donna Gabaccia will help us to understand the place of the United States in overseas “diasporas” and the hybrid transnational identities that overseas sojourning promoted. Without the flows of people, goods, ideas, and foreign investments, American nation building would never have been possible and the rise of the United States to global power inconceivable.
Our third segment is designed to examine the rise of the United States as a global power to the 1970s. Its participation in the era of the New Imperialism and world wars not only transformed it, but had an enormous impact on the world. Paul Kramer of Johns Hopkins University will assist us in understanding the causes and consequences of the expansion of American power into the Pacific. World War I marked a decisive turning point in American global involvements, and historian Alan Dawley will discuss with institute participants the trajectory of American overseas power in the era of Woodrow Wilson and afterward. Our readings will provide additional insight into the cultural and economic dimensions of America’s twentieth-century engagements with the world. After World War II, cultural initiatives became aligned to American diplomacy as the U.S. government sponsored global tours of jazz players and sports teams to showcase the Free World’s advantages in the struggle for the world’s hearts and minds. The export of American culture and its implications for empire, race, and globalization will be a focal point of University of Michigan historian Penny Von Eschen’s presentation to our group.
In the final segment of the institute, the emphasis will be on the post-Vietnam War period. The restructuring of the world economy beginning in the 1970s had roots in this country, but was by no means peculiar to it. As John and William McNeill have shown in The Human Web: A Bird’s-Eye View of World History, the world was fundamentally reconfigured as economies became ever more multi-national, with flows of people, ideas, and influence becoming multi-directional. In an era when economies no longer conform to national boundaries, where America begins and ends is no longer clear. Globalization is not a single process with a predictable outcome. It has led not to uniformity but to diversity. America is more connected to the world than ever before, but this does not mean that it has lost its unique characteristics. Institute co-director John Gillis will help us to sort out the complicated, often contradictory consequences of this most recent phase of global interaction. We also anticipate that our discussion of recent U.S. foreign policy will be enhanced by a meeting with Congressman Dave Loebsack of Iowa, a former professor of political science who was a participant in our 2005 institute.
By the end of these four weeks we hope to arrive at insights about how the conventional narratives of American history might be revised to better recognize its changing place in the larger world. We will consider the issue of appropriate geographical scale as well as ways to make our chronologies more sensitive to large processes like migration and industrialization which do not fit well within short-term teaching or research units. We expect that questioning geographical limits and conventional periodization will have a revitalizing effect on the college curriculum, affecting not only how American history is taught but the way it relates to other regional and world histories. At every point in our discussions, we will be talking about ways these insights can be integrated into curricula and how primary and secondary sources can be made available to students. Bringing the world to America and America to the world promises to bring huge rewards to both our teaching and research.
Qualifications for Participation We hope to attract applicants from a wide variety of interests and backgrounds, so that the group can profit from diversity of approaches and methods. We welcome both two and four-year college teachers from all humanistic and social scientific backgrounds who are concerned with global dimensions of the American experience over time. We are particularly interested in attracting teachers of survey courses with heavy teaching loads, who desire time and support to further their scholarly and pedagogical goals. This would include not only American historians, but specialists in other world regions who are concerned with interactions with America. We would welcome teachers of the history of art, music, geography, and literature that work on the theme of transnational interactions. As we are looking at the longue durée, applicants from pre-history, archaeology, and ethno history are encouraged. We would hope to put together a group that would be representative of all major time periods as well as geographical dimensions.
Each applicant is asked to submit a statement of no more than four double-spaced pages on why he or she wants to participate in the institute, and why its theme is vital to his or her scholarly development and teaching effectiveness. Each will propose a research project and a curriculum development initiative related to one of the eras or topics under study. All proposals will be reviewed by us and by Professor David Berry of the Community College Humanities Association.
It is our intention to put together a group of twenty five participants that is broadly representative of the talents and interests of a wide variety of disciplines. The research you propose can be a new area of interest or one related to research you have already begun. It may lead to future publication, but this is not required. In any case, all the fellows will be asked to consider the relevance of their research to curricular renovation, producing a syllabus or at least one unit or segment of a course that reflects what they have learned at the institute. A good deal of time and attention will be given to this dimension of the institute as well as to the individual research projects. We are expecting that everyone will make their findings available to their colleagues at their home institutions and that they will disseminate their conclusions as widely as possible through curriculum committees, workshops, newsletters, and relevant websites.
Setting and Resources We are privileged to be able to conduct our institute in the the Library of Congress, whose resources can be accessed at the Library’s home page (www.loc.gov). Not only will you have available to you the vast range of primary and secondary sources--maps, manuscripts, photo and art archives--of what is the world’s greatest research library, but we will have the full support of the Division of Scholarly Programs, which is experienced in hosting this kind of institute. Those of us who have enjoyed the Library’s hospitality on other occasions know the joys of working there and in the other incomparable museums and archives in Washington. Library staff will conduct an orientation to the collections early in the institute. You may bring laptop computers into most reading rooms, and computer terminals are available for catalog, database, and Internet searches. However, computers for word processing are not provided.
We will hold our meetings in the Library itself in Room 113 of the Jefferson building, a beautiful wood-paneled conference room containing Woodrow Wilson’s library. This will provide us with a base from which to operate. You will be provided with the full privileges of a visiting scholar, including shelf space where you may store your materials. It is important to note that the Library of Congress materials do not circulate outside the library, and that researchers may not browse the stacks. You will have access to other scholarly institutions in Washington together with introductions to librarians, cartographers, and digital experts. We plan to make good use of the new National Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of Natural History, the Holocaust Museum, and other Smithsonian facilities, whose exhibits will provide additional material for discussion of how American history can be internationalized. The American Historical Association and National Center for History will host social events in which you will be introduced to its staff and other academics from the D.C. area. There will also be opportunities to explore the city and its environs at your leisure.
Housing and Meals Fellows of the institute will be housed in air-conditioned rooms at George Washington University (GWU), located at the very heart of the city and easily accessible by public transportation. For student housing at GWU, rates are projected to be between $1,000 and $1,150. Final pricing will be posted on the project website by mid-February. You will have a private bedroom but may share a bathroom, living room, and kitchen with other participants of the same gender. Remember, these are dorms, so you will be roughing it, with few of the amenities or services provided at a hotel. Weekly linen service will be provided, but there is no maid service and you must provide your own alarm clock, reading lamp, iron, hangers, toiletries, etc. NHC staff will provide additional information and advice about making your time in the dorm as comfortable as possible.
For a fee, you may use the dining services on the GWU campus, but where you take your meals will be up to you. Those of you who wish to bring your families to Washington may wish to look for apartments in the city. Most parts of D.C. are well served by public transportation, but NHC staff can provide advice on neighborhoods, transportation, safety, etc.
We will secure campus computing accounts for the participants housed at GWU, but strongly advise that you bring a laptop computer, as we cannot guarantee that computer centers will be close to the dorm. Internet access will be available in dorm rooms for a fee. All participants will have access to the GWU library, but may have to use the books on site during the library’s summer hours.
George Washington University is within easy walking distance of the Foggy Bottom Metro stop. You will need to take Metro to the Library of Congress. Please note that parking will not be provided on campus or at the Library, so you are advised against bringing a car.
On most days, we will be having lunch together in or near the Library itself. Participants
will pay for meals out of their stipends. Afternoons will be largely devoted to independent study, but there will also be opportunities to re-gather in the evening. As in 2005, we will continue the practice whereby each of our guest speakers had dinner with volunteer participants the evening before their presentation, and lunch after their talks, thus facilitating personal connections that were much appreciated by all involved. Many evenings will be available to take advantage of Washington’s vast range of restaurants, theatres, museums, sporting events, and free public offerings. The NHC staff will provide a list of suggestions to get you started, including a list of affordable restaurants in walking distance from the Library.
Feel free to contact Miriam Hauss at the National History Center (firstname.lastname@example.org) or 202-544-2422, x103, if you need additional information or advice about accommodations.
Stipends The stipend for participants is $3000, intended to help cover travel, accommodations,
meals, and research expenses. The first check (approximately one half of the total, minus the housing prepayment required by GWU for those who opt for this arrangement) will be waiting for you when you arrive. The second check usually comes about halfway through the project. Please make arrangements for remote deposit with your bank, as the AHA and NHC cannot cash checks.
Reminder of application procedure and deadlines Application information is included in this letter. All materials are also available online at http://www.historians.org/projects/rethinkingamerica/2008/. Please remember that you must fill out an online application cover sheet at http://neh.gov/online/eductation/participants/ to accompany your other application materials. Your completed application should be postmarked no later than March 3, 2008 and should be addressed as follows:
National History Center
400 A Street, SE
Washington, D.C. 20003
Perhaps the most important part of the application is the essay. This essay should include any personal and academic information that is relevant; your reasons for applying for this institute; your interest, both intellectual and personal, in its topic; qualifications to do work on the theme of the institute; what you hope to accomplish by participation and what you can contribute to the group, including a description of the research you intend to pursue during the four weeks and the curriculum project you wish to initiate.
Thank you once again for your interest. We look forward to reviewing your application.
John R. Gillis and Carl Guarneri
Last Updated: November 2, 2007 3:43 PM