Saturday, January 7, 2012

Lawrence Peskin and Edmund Wehrle's "America and the World"

Lawrence A. Peskin is an associate professor of history at Morgan State University and author of Manufacturing Revolution: The Intellectual Origins of Early American Industry and Captives and Countrymen: Barbary Slavery and the American Public, 1785-1816. Edmund F. Wehrle is an associate professor of history at Eastern Illinois University and author of Between a River and a Mountain: The AFL-CIO and the Vietnam War.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, America and the World: Culture, Commerce, Conflict, and reported the following:
Our book is all about connections and context. As the title indicates, the subject matter is America's evolving connection to the larger world over the last five centuries. This topic is of great interest to academic historians these days. They are writing numerous books and teaching courses detailing aspects of America's connection to the wider world, often focusing more on cultural and economic influence than on old-fashioned diplomatic history. But it is also very important to the broader public which, at least since 2001 (and certainly since 2008), is achingly aware of how connected our world has become, even if it is not quite so aware of how we got there. We are also concerned with a second sort of connection: the links between various aspects of American history that can sometimes be obscured by scholars' preoccupations with tightly bounded specialties and narrowly focused monographs.

Page 99 offers great examples of both sorts of connections. The top half contains the final sentences of a section on America's westward expansion. We view Commodore Perry's 1853 voyage to Japan, which forced that nation to open itself to world trade, as the culmination of westward expansion:
Five years later, in 1858, the United States became the first western nation to negotiate a trade agreement with Japan. Japanese agreements with France and Britain soon followed. The United States took great pride in its role opening the Japanese market. When the first Japanese delegation arrived in New York in 1860, the poet Walt Whitman exulted, “I chant the world on my western sea... I chant the new empire, grander than any before.” In Japan, however, stresses created by the end of seclusion soon led to the violent overthrow of the ancient shogunate in 1868. World markets transformed Japan as well as America.
The bottom half of the page marks the start of a section detailing the new nation's efforts to create domestic manufacturing during the early industrial revolution:
The colonies had supported very little manufacturing, in part because of mercantilist strictures against it. During the Revolution some Americans, particularly artisans, viewed the boycott against British goods as an entering wedge for developing America's manufacturing capacity. Revolutionaries initiated some early manufacturing projects, most notably the American Manufactory in Philadelphia (1775), which hired several hundred employees and purchased some of the earliest industrial textile machinery in America. In lauding this project, the patriot leader Dr. Benjamin Rush noted, “A people who are entirely dependent upon foreigners for food or clothing must always be subject to them.” Not all agreed. In the 1780s Thomas Jefferson hoped Americans would “let our workshops remain in Europe.” He feared that manufacturing would lead to factory towns on the order of Manchester, England, which would undermine his vision of a nation of independent farmers. But by 1816, like many members of his party, Jefferson had modified his position, writing, “Experience has taught me that manufactures are now necessary to our independence.” Nevertheless, much like westward expansion, the growth of manufacturing soon created greater national and global interdependence than self-sufficiency and independence.
While both episodes – Perry's voyage and the development of domestic manufacturing – are reasonably well known to historians, we hope that juxtaposing them in this way will prompt students, general readers, and scholars to gain new perspective on America's long connection to the larger world, and, in this case, to consider the longstanding tensions between the efforts of some to look inward and of others to look outward. Or, as the last sentence suggests, the impossibility of entirely disentangling those two impulses.
Learn more about America and the World: Culture, Commerce, Conflict at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue