March 13, 2007
By Robert A. Schneider, AHR Editor
The February issue of the American Historical Review is now available on-line at the History Cooperative.
This issue contains the American Historical Association Presidential Address and four articles. The presidential address confronts the issue of statelessness, offering a historical and far-seeing perspective on this timely topic. Like many of the articles in recent issues, the four that follow all deal with comparative or transnational themes. One looks at Indians in the context of U.S.- Mexican War; another compares the writings on nationalism of two twentieth-century literary figures in colonial contexts; a third examines the “opening of Japan” from a Russian angle; and the final article reexamines “bourgeois feminism” as a contentious topic among modern feminists in the West. As always, a large part of the issue is devoted to our extensive book review section.
Linda K. Kerber’s presidential address, “The Stateless as the Citizen’s Other: A View from the United States,” is a wide-ranging and passionate discussion of an issue that has particular meaning in our time, marked as it is by a dramatic increase in the number of refugees, asylum seekers, and other uprooted peoples. Kerber notes that women and children have historically been the most vulnerable when it came to denying or questioning peoples’ claims to US citizenship. She also shows that the laws which denied citizenship to illegitimate children of American citizens abroad were largely conceived as measures to protect US soldiers in foreign theaters of war from the burden of unwanted dependents. Her address goes on to consider the historical evolution in our understanding of citizenship, leading to the widespread acceptance today of dual citizenship as well as somewhat elastic notions of citizenship as embodied, for example, in the political culture of the European Union. Still, the specter of statelessness is one that haunts many. It is a world-wide problem, aggravated by the vicissitudes of war and the global traffic in labor, among other dislocating forces. Indeed, Kerber provocatively suggests that the condition of statelessness serves “the state by signaling who will not be entitled to its protection, and throwing fear into the rest of us.” She ends her address with a wistful and passionate meditation on the possibility of an emerging new understanding of citizenship as a global right—a “meaningful cosmopolitanism, in which a robust international law protects human rights in reliable ways, and reliance on the vagaries of the single nation state is less essential.”
In “Independent Indians and the U.S.-Mexican War,” Brian DeLay offers a new interpretation of the conflict that won the United States half of Mexico’s national territory. During the 1830s and 1840s, northern Mexico experienced a terrifying increase in interethnic violence as Comanches, Kiowas, Apaches, and other Indians attacked Mexican settlements across nine states. Raids claimed thousands of lives, shattered critical sectors of northern Mexico’s economy, and depopulated much of its vast countryside. Just as importantly, the violence shaped how Americans and Mexicans came to view each other in advance of the war. U.S. observers saw Indians driving Mexicans backward, and used this observation to form ambitions and tactics for continental expansion. For their part, Mexicans came to believe that the United States was fomenting raids in order to acquire territory. Most consequentially, Indian raids shaped the course and outcome of the war itself. Exhausted, impoverished, and facing ongoing attacks, northern Mexicans were woefully unprepared to confront the U.S. Army in 1846; American commanders exploited the violence to manage the occupation; and politicians in Washington invoked Indian raiding to justify the seizure of more than half a million square miles of land. In this article, DeLay seeks to make Indians central to our understanding of the U.S.-Mexican War. More broadly, he argues for the relevance of native polities to the international history of the nineteenth-century Americas.
In “Overcoming the ‘Contagion of Mimicry’: The Cosmopolitan Nationalism and Modernist History of Rabindranath Tagore and W. B. Yeats,” Louise Blakeney Williams explores the unique view of nationalism of Nobel Prize–winning poets of the first part of the twentieth century, Rabindranath Tagore and W. B. Yeats. Both authors were lauded as the greatest poets of their countries, but they were also criticized by anti-colonial activists at the time, and some scholars in the past few decades, for being pro-British elitists rather than true nationalists. Williams argues, on the contrary, that Tagore’s and Yeats’s ideas were misunderstood at the time and since. Far from being antinationalist, Tagore and Yeats attempted to define an alternative version of nationalism that resembles the “new” cosmopolitanism, a concept which has been considered so promising by many academics in the past twenty years. Both authors hoped for a nationalism that could combine the universal and particular, and the best of the metropolis and periphery, rather than exclude one or the other. Williams shows that they were able to develop these theories because of their non-progressive views of history. Their resulting version of nationalism avoided many of the problems with anti-colonial theories that have been criticized by postcolonial scholars. Above all, the nationalism of Tagore and Yeats was far less imitative of modern Western discourse than other nationalisms because it avoided Orientalist dichotomizing, imperial historical meta-narratives, and a valorization of modernization and statism. As such, the cosmopolitanism of these two great poets had the potential to be more subversive to imperialism than were other forms of nationalism at the time.
Western modernity has long provided a governing logic for our understanding of the history of modern Japan. This logic has often interlinked our use of sources of historical evidence, the method of investigation, theory, and historical narratives. “Reopening the ‘Opening of Japan’: A Russian-Japanese Revolutionary Encounter and the Vision of Anarchist Progress” by Sho Konishi attempts to construct an alternative logic of history writing that connects sources, method, theory, and narrative in new ways. The article traces the transnational encounter in mid-nineteenth-century Japan between the Russian revolutionary Lev Mechnikov and Japanese who participated in the “Meiji Ishin,” what Mechnikov called a “complete and radical revolution.” Their revolutionary encounter took place on the non-state and non-organizational level beyond the imagined divide between East and West, a spatial order that itself has been a product of the temporal order of Western modernity. From his encounters with Ishin Japan, Mechnikov constructed a novel theory of human evolutionary progress based on co-operatist principles of anarchism that would both transform modern anarchist thought and form the basis for a major current in Japanese intellectual and cultural life, or “cooperatist anarchist modernity.” Those who identified with this movement saw themselves transcending national, racial, gender, and other identities of a specific nature. By tracing intellectual developments transnationally, through cross-border networks, this article offers a fresh approach to Japanese intellectual history. In unsettling, or “reopening” the historical meaning and value of Japan’s opening to the wider world, Sho Konishi argues for the importance of viewing modern international history outside the epistemological limits of East and West, colonized and colonizer.
“Rethinking the Socialist Construction and International Career of the Concept ‘Bourgeois Feminism’” by Marilyn J. Boxer addresses a major theme in women’s history and historiography: the widespread and persistent categorization of women’s movements that distinguishes the thought and action of feminists on the basis of their alleged class interests. Focusing on the origins and usages of the concept “bourgeois feminism,” her article shows how it was deployed by leftists, ranging from socialist women of the Second International to activists of “second wave” feminism, in order to trivialize and dismiss nonsocialist feminist claims. And she also demonstrates the role played by historians and feminist theorists in passing along the rhetoric and politics of the earlier era to a new generation of students and activists. While questioning the class basis on which the distinction between socialist women and nonsocialist feminists rests and the extent to which it affected the potential for collaboration among women’s groups, Boxer suggests the need for new histories of feminism and the left no longer encumbered by problematic assumptions about women’s class interests or by socialist politics of the past.