This Violent Empire: The Birth of an American National Identity

Overview

Smith-Rosenberg traces the origins of American violence, racism, and paranoia to the founding moments of the new nation and the initial instability of Americans' national sense of self. She explores the ways the founding generation, lacking a common history, governmental infrastructures, and shared culture, solidified their national sense of self by imagining a series of "Others" (African Americans, Native Americans, women, the propertyless) whose differences from European American male founders overshadowed the ...

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Overview

Smith-Rosenberg traces the origins of American violence, racism, and paranoia to the founding moments of the new nation and the initial instability of Americans' national sense of self. She explores the ways the founding generation, lacking a common history, governmental infrastructures, and shared culture, solidified their national sense of self by imagining a series of "Others" (African Americans, Native Americans, women, the propertyless) whose differences from European American male founders overshadowed the differences that divided those founders. Feared, but also desired, these "Others" refused to be marginalized, incurring increasingly enraged enactments of their political and social exclusion.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An extraordinarily original analysis. . . . Smith-Rosenberg has unflinchingly constructed a dynamic new paradigm for understanding 'postcolonial' American society. While her work is certainly academic in tone and complex subject matter, its provocative expose of the modern American issues of racism, xenophobia, and sexism makes it essential reading for everyone seriously interested in American history."—Library Journal

"Like any book worth reading, This Violent Empire provides readers plenty to contend with. . . . Let a hundred Carroll Smith-Rosenbergs bloom."—American Historical Review

"This is a big, rich, thoughtful book about an important topic. It should be widely considered among the dozen or so most important books published this year on U.S. history. Mandatory reading for advanced students of American culture. . . . Essential."—Choice

"Does not disappoint. . . . Provides important insights on the dark historical schism between the aspirations of the new republic and its racially violent reality . . . provides a context for critically analyzing the effect of that history on the current political climate."—Journal of American History

"Smith-Rosenberg bases her book on a wide and impressive reading of popular magazines and novels published around the time of the 1787 Constitutional Convention. . . . Takes us on a journey into the darkened mansions that crowded the troubled minds of our founders."—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"Work[s] to counter the tenacity with which the conventional narrative of American history has for so long been sanitized and distorted. . . . Help[s] us reconsider the peculiar terms of American history."—Indiana Magazine of History

"An astonishing and convincing picture of the psychological fissures and multiple identities that made up the early American republic."—North Carolina Historical Review

"A thoughtful and exquisitely written cultural history of the early American republic. . . . [it] exhibits an impressive mastery of an expansive and diverse field of study. . . . genius."—Essays in History

"An interesting contribution to the existing historical scholarship for both the War of Independence and foundation of the American Republic."—Eras

"Smith-Rosenberg's analysis persuasively reveals the interplay of class, race, and gender in the construction of an important early articulation of American national identity."—Journal of Southern History
"There are many fine moments. . . Smith-Rosenberg joins her research to that of others with clarifying effect."—Early American Literature

"This Violent Empire is a bold book. It offers thought-provoking and exciting interpretations throughout."—H-Net Reviews

Library Journal
Through an extraordinarily original analysis of the early republic's print culture, including political magazines, newspapers, and novels, Smith-Rosenberg (Mary Frances Berry Collegiate Professor Emeritus, Univ. of Michigan, Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America) presents readers with the true American paradox of a land that celebrates its rich diversity while simultaneously excluding and marginalizing particular groups. Her central argument is that postrevolutionary attempts to construct a unified "American" identity based on principles of equality and a merging of republicanism with bourgeois commercial capitalism faltered in the face of deeply entrenched cultural and economic divisions as well as bitter racial and gender discrimination. The more unstable and ambiguous these newly fashioned identities became, the more they required a series of constituted "others," including rural farmers, Native Americans, bourgeois women, and enslaved African Americans. These others refused to give in, struck back, and further destabilized an already fragmented national identity. VERDICT Smith-Rosenberg has unflinchingly constructed a dynamic new paradigm for understanding "postcolonial" American society. While her work is certainly academic in tone and complex subject matter, its provocative exposé of the modern American issues of racism, xenophobia, and sexism makes it essential reading for everyone seriously interested in American history.—Brian Odom, Pelham P.L., AL
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, Mary Frances Berry Collegiate Professor, Emeritus, University of Michigan, is author of numerous books, including Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction "What Then Is the American, This New Man?" 1

Sect. 1 The New American-As-Republican Citizen

Prologue One: The Drums of War / The Thrust of Empire 47

Ch. 1 Fusions and Confusions 55

Ch. 2 Rebellious Dandies and Political Fictions 88

Ch. 3 American Minervas 136

Sect. 2 Dangerous Doubles

Prologue Two: Masculinity and Masquerade 191

Ch. 4 Seeing Red 207

Ch. 5 Subject Female: Authorizing an American Identity 250

Sect. 3 The New American-As-Bourgeois Gentleman

Prologue Three: The Ball 291

Ch. 6 Choreographing Class / Performing Gentility 309

Ch. 7 Polished Gentlemen, Troublesome Women, and Dancing Slaves 365

Ch. 8 Black Gothic 413

Conclusion 465

Index 469

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