Dominance by Design: Technological Imperatives and America's Civilizing Mission

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Overview

Long before the United States became a major force in global affairs, Americans believed in their superiority over others due to their inventiveness, productivity, and economic and social well-being. U.S. expansionists assumed a mandate to “civilize” non-Western peoples by demanding submission to American technological prowess and design. As an integral part of America’s national identity and sense of itself in the world, this civilizing mission provided the rationale to displace the Indians from much of our continent, to build an island empire in the Pacific and Caribbean, and to promote unilateral—at times military—interventionism throughout Asia. In our age of “smart bombs” and mobile warfare, technological aptitude remains preeminent in validating America’s global mission.

Michael Adas brilliantly pursues the history of this mission through America's foreign relations over nearly four centuries from North America to the Philippines, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf. The belief that it is our right and destiny to remake foreign societies in our image has endured from the early decades of colonization to our current crusade to implant American-style democracy in the Muslim Middle East.

Dominance by Design explores the critical ways in which technological superiority has undergirded the U.S.’s policies of unilateralism, preemption, and interventionism in foreign affairs and raised us from an impoverished frontier nation to a global power. Challenging the long-held assumptions and imperatives that sustain the civilizing mission, Adas gives us an essential guide to America’s past and present role in the world as well as cautionary lessons for the future.

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of World History

In the past few years, bookstores have been deluged with books critical of American foreign policy, and specifically condemning he actions of the Bush administration in the Middle East. In Dominance by Design, Michael Adas carries that critical interpretation of American policy into the past, arguing that throughout history the attitudes and actions of Americans toward non-Western peoples have been characterized by condescension, arrogance, and violence...Adas attributes the moral blindness and overweening arrogance of the American people toward non-Western peoples to the powerful technologies they have adopted or developed.
— Daniel R. Headrick

American Historical Review

[This] book is a compelling, well-written indictment of our "techno-hubris" that should be required reading for this and subsequent presidents as well as historians of U.S. culture, politics, and technology.
— Carolyn De La Pena

Technology and Culture

Michael Adas has written an excellent and most timely study of the oft-forgotten role of technology in enabling and then justifying European colonization of North America, the westward expansion of the United States, and ultimately the emergence of the United States as a global power.
— John H. Morrow

James C. Scott
If only I could send two or three thousand choice subjects to a "re-education camp" consisting entirely of a close reading of Adas's Dominance by Design, a sweeping, powerful indictment of American technological hubris from the first European settlers to the Gulf Wars.
Nick Cullather
Adas has identified the leitmotif of American empire: not democracy, globalization, or "soft power," but technology. Technology sanctions conquest and justifies projects to reshape the lives, habits, and environments of distant peoples. Adas has given us an arresting, comprehensive narrative that will change the way we think.
Michael Hunt
Dominance by Design is a wonderful piece of synthesis -- smart, fluent, and wide-ranging. Michael Adas traces the arc of U.S. history and highlights what he calls technocentrism as a major source of American economic, military, and environmental mastery. This argument deserves a readership as broad as the scholarship on which it is based.
Walter Lafeber
In this extraordinary, and extraordinarily important, book, Michael Adas not only gives us a fascinating historical overview of American technology but how faith in that technology's power shaped (or tragically misshaped) American religion, fine art, race relations, engineers and engineering, and views of Islam.
Paul N. Edwards
Few scholars have so fully grasped the profound connection between exceptionalism, expansionism, and technological evangelism in American history. No one who seeks to understand this country's past, present, or future can afford to ignore this masterful book.
Journal of World History - Daniel R. Headrick
In the past few years, bookstores have been deluged with books critical of American foreign policy, and specifically condemning he actions of the Bush administration in the Middle East. In Dominance by Design, Michael Adas carries that critical interpretation of American policy into the past, arguing that throughout history the attitudes and actions of Americans toward non-Western peoples have been characterized by condescension, arrogance, and violence...Adas attributes the moral blindness and overweening arrogance of the American people toward non-Western peoples to the powerful technologies they have adopted or developed.
American Historical Review - Carolyn De La Pena
[This] book is a compelling, well-written indictment of our "techno-hubris" that should be required reading for this and subsequent presidents as well as historians of U.S. culture, politics, and technology.
Technology and Culture - John H. Morrow
Michael Adas has written an excellent and most timely study of the oft-forgotten role of technology in enabling and then justifying European colonization of North America, the westward expansion of the United States, and ultimately the emergence of the United States as a global power.
Technology and Culture
Michael Adas has written an excellent and most timely study of the oft-forgotten role of technology in enabling and then justifying European colonization of North America, the westward expansion of the United States, and ultimately the emergence of the United States as a global power.
— John H. Morrow
American Historical Review
[This] book is a compelling, well-written indictment of our "techno-hubris" that should be required reading for this and subsequent presidents as well as historians of U.S. culture, politics, and technology.
— Carolyn De La Pena
Journal of World History
In the past few years, bookstores have been deluged with books critical of American foreign policy, and specifically condemning he actions of the Bush administration in the Middle East. In Dominance by Design, Michael Adas carries that critical interpretation of American policy into the past, arguing that throughout history the attitudes and actions of Americans toward non-Western peoples have been characterized by condescension, arrogance, and violence...Adas attributes the moral blindness and overweening arrogance of the American people toward non-Western peoples to the powerful technologies they have adopted or developed.
— Daniel R. Headrick
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674032163
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2009
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 1,283,089
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 4.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Adas is the Abraham E. Voorhees Professor of History at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.
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Table of Contents

Introduction

1. Engines in the Wilderness

2. Machines and Manifest Destiny

3. Engineers' Imperialism

4. Foundations of an American Century

5. Imposing Modernity

6. Machines in the Vietnam Quagmire

7. Technowar in the Persian Gulf

Epilogue: The Paradox of Technological Supremacy

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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