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After the Imperial Turn by Antoinette Burton

After the Imperial Turn by Antoinette Burton

Author:Antoinette Burton
Language: eng
Format: mobi
Publisher: Duke University Press
Published: 2003-05-28T14:00:00+00:00


Who’s Next?

Meet the new Boss, Same as the old Boss.

—Pete Townsend, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

How do we make the great leap forward? How do we make the long march toward the promised land of internationalism? Can it be done in one five-year plan, or will it take several? How do we accomplish this without on the one hand using inflationary rhetoric about our proximity to our goal or, on the other, raising the self-interest rates? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel as we move through a period of questioning “the nation” to some overarching plan sensitive to the global? More seriously, is any plan that we try to establish not in some way going to reify the boundaries of “American” and “international” and in so doing undermine the possibility that we may transcend them?

Rather than being programmatic about the global and the international in ways that reify the past, I would suggest we need to deploy them as questions that may provide the limits to our endeavors as historians. It is merely sufficient, I would argue, that we enlarge our perspective so that we enable ourselves to raise questions about ourselves and about the kinds of histories we write and in which we believe. Here are some examples of questions that animate my interventions (and I stress that they may interest only me; others will have to find their own “way in the world” according to the kind of work in which they are engaged): Why do we place the American Revolution as the determining event in North American history and ignore the arguably more important revolution in St. Domingue? Why would we make the decision to do this when a historian like Henry Adams did not, at least to the same degree? Why do we instinctively conform to the Burnsian paradigm that American history is the story of the Civil War and baseball, with the West thrown in for good measure and to provide a manifest destination, all with a jazz soundtrack? Is it necessary to do more than ask these questions and keep asking them, whether or not we like the answers? If we follow this line of thinking and questioning, we will find, I believe, that the international, like all the ingredients in ragu spaghetti, is “in there” already and that in this regard the notion of internationalizing American history will be no more than a tautology.

But if we are to follow the programmatic strictures of LP, Inc., and the FAC, then, in the words of the Immortal Bard II, “don’t you know that you can count me out.” And I make no apologies for this. For, it seems to me, when the notion of the “American” rests in the erasure, or (as Michel-Rolph Trouillot might describe it) the “silencing,” of that which is fundamentally international, then the notion of internationalizing American history constitutes an oxymoron.29 “American” history, after all, has appropriated the term (“American”) for a national history or concern, and as



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