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Keywords

Age of Revoutions, long eighteenth century, Atlantic history, political history, social history, narrative, migration, legal cultures, ideologies, religion, empires, nation-states

This issue of Early American Studies is the product of two conferences sponsored by the Atlantic History program at New York University. In the winter of 2007 "Rethinking Boundaries: Transforming Methods and Approaches in Atlantic History" interrogated the categories of analysis that frame Atlantic history and asked conference participants to question whether Atlantic history has opened new perspectives on the early modern world, or whether it has simply recast older imperial histories. One criticism that emerged from that conference was that ending the history of the Atlantic world in the mid-nineteenth century with the end of the "Age of Revolutions" reified the centrality of European empires by setting up their inception and decline as starting and ending points of Atlantic history.1 [End Page 1]

This tension was the focus of our follow-up conference, "Forming Nations, Reforming Empires: Atlantic Polities in the Long Eighteenth Century," held in 2010. This second conference highlighted alternatives to a narrative of the long eighteenth century in which empires declined and nation-states rose, especially in the latter half of the Age of Revolutions. We asked participants to use narratives and case studies to explore particular ways in which empires might have adapted to the changing circumstances of the eighteenth century, and in which nation-states did not smoothly evolve out of empires, and to investigate the complex landscape of loyalties, disloyalties, and networks—political and otherwise—during this whole period.

The articles in this issue continue to pursue the questions raised in both conferences. In particular, they highlight the ways in which networks of revolution, religion, migration, and intellectual production shaped the experiences of people moving in and around the Atlantic in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These case studies do not argue for an eighteenth-century Atlantic world free from political and social upheaval—unrest was certainly one characteristic of the era—but they also reveal that there were multiple and alternative forms of affiliation among eighteenth-century actors. The revolutionary story has, for the most part, come to dominate narratives of the long eighteenth century, particularly in the Atlantic Ocean basin, and these papers ask us to engage explicitly with how a focus on that revolutionary character has emphasized some stories and occluded others. These papers question what counts as a revolution and who can be called a revolutionary. Simply living in or around the Atlantic world between the late 1600s and early 1800s did not inevitably a revolutionary make. Similarly, even those who actively participated in revolutions were not necessarily engaged in anti-imperial or nationalist projects. We hope that this issue continues a discussion about the work that individual revolutions and the Age of Revolutions as a historical era have done, both during the eighteenth century and in its aftermath.

Although the "father" of the Age of Revolutions, R. R. Palmer, contended that "Atlantic Civilization" was "swept away in the last four decades of the eighteenth century by a single revolutionary movement," scholars of the revolutionary period have tended to study individual revolutions as discrete subjects and folded them into either nationalist histories or comparative [End Page 2] syntheses that seek to judge each revolution's successes and failures.2 Recent work, however, has suggested the value of studying the Age of Revolutions as linked to wider Atlantic phenomena. For example, in 2009, building on the earlier work of C. L. R. James, Laurent Dubois made a case for the explicit transnationalism of the Haitian Revolution, arguing that it was not merely a part of the era of Atlantic revolutions by virtue of location or timing, but that "it was itself, constitutively, Atlantic in its foundations and in its course."3 In 2011 an exhibit at the New-York Historical Society titled Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn employed a global approach linking the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions. In his essay in the exhibit catalogue, Thomas Bender contended that although some scholars "generally treat these...

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