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This Violent Empire
The Birth of an American National Identity
Paper: 978-0-8078-7271-0 ($27.95)
University of North Carolina Press
A Prize-Winning Book
- Choice Outstanding Academic Title (2011)
This Violent Empire 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.
Fusing cultural and political analyses to create a new form of political history, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg 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. These "Others," dangerous and polluting, had to be excluded from the European American body politic. Feared, but also desired, they refused to be marginalized, incurring increasingly enraged enactments of their political and social exclusion that shaped our long history of racism, xenophobia, and sexism. Close readings of political rhetoric during the Constitutional debates reveal the genesis of this long history.
About 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.
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.
In this much anticipated work, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg takes up Crèvecoeur’s challenge ‘What then is the American, this new man?’ and boldly answers: A deeply divided subject of This Violent Empire, this United States. In exposing republican citizens’ desires and fears, she not only opens up new realms of thought and inquiry—she makes clear that no genuine understanding of the new nation can overlook the profoundly confounded and contested cultural construction of ‘the American, this new man.’
--Michael Meranze, University of California, Los Angeles
Smith-Rosenberg maps the genesis of a historical dilemma, how the United States vaunted diversity and emphasis on unity often function in bitter opposition. Historically rich and theoretically sophisticated, This Violent Empire studies the social, material, urban, intercultural, and international contexts through which an impossibly unified American identity was imagined in the magazines, literature, and art of the early United States.
--Dana D. Nelson, Vanderbilt University
Scholars of the new nation and its culture have been waiting twenty years for this book—and it is well worth the wait. We will no longer hear that the most powerful actors of the ‘founding’ did not think or talk creatively about Indians, or slaves, or women. This Violent Empire reaches deep into the national psyche and broadly into the cultural practices that defined Americans and their ‘Others’ in a formative period; it is a tour de force of political and cultural analysis that informs us all.
--David Waldstreicher, Temple University
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.
Like any book worth reading, This Violent Empire provides readers plenty to contend with. . . . Let a hundred Carroll Smith-Rosenbergs bloom.
--American 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 astonishing and convincing picture of the psychological fissures and multiple identities that made up the early American republic.
--North Carolina 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.
An interesting contribution to the existing historical scholarship for both the War of Independence and foundation of the American Republic.
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
This Violent Empire is a bold book. It offers thought-provoking and exciting interpretations throughout.
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'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