- Reconstruction in a Globalizing World ed. by David Prior
History must be rewritten for every generation in order to make the past relevant to the present. It is therefore fitting that, in this age of globalization, scholars are interested in looking at American events in the context of world history. For some topics, this approach seems obvious, but Reconstruction has been a subject almost always analyzed with a domestic lens. After all, the settlement of the Civil War seemed to be an internal matter that offered enough complexity for scholarly interpretation within the parameters of the nation itself—until now. Reconstruction in a Globalizing World, edited by David Prior, is the latest installment in the Reconstructing America series from Fordham University Press. This slim volume of essays is one of the first attempts to place Reconstruction in a broader, global context, inviting scholars to see the postwar period in a new light and challenging them to look beyond the borders of the United States. [End Page 190]
Prior's introduction places the essays at the nexus of Reconstruction scholarship and transnational history. While recognizing the difficulties of combining such disparate fields, Prior insists that doing so affords an opportunity to better explain and understand such matters as international markets, foreign affairs, and nationalism. Seeing Reconstruction through this lens reveals that the "postbellum United States was so struck through with transnational connections that it seems impossible that they were not relevant to Reconstruction" (p. 6). Thus, subjects such as "education, racial ideologies, grassroots political culture, [and] intellectual currents" were not simply important to Reconstruction, but also "had fascinating but neglected transnational dimensions" (p. 6). Yet, in the long run, this collection does more to highlight the values of setting nineteenth-century U.S. history in the context of a transatlantic culture than it does to show the influence of broader world history.
Chapters by Evan C. Rothera and Matthew J. Hetrick examine the issues of race and education by looking at Argentina and Liberia, respectively. These two essays help place the efforts of northern reformers who went south to educate freedpeople during Reconstruction within a transatlantic context. Rothera shows how Argentina's president Domingo F. Sarmiento drew on his time in the United States to develop plans for education reform in his own country and to raise questions about the role of race in such reform work. Meanwhile, as Hetrick explains, educators started a college in Monrovia, Liberia, only to find that divisions of race and class, combined with waning interest from African Americans and white reformers in the United States, hampered their efforts.
Transatlantic connections also inform two of the best essays in the book, as Mitchell Snay explores the ways Radical Republicans and the northern press saw the British Reform Act of 1867 and related it to the Reconstruction Acts in the United States. The complexities of their thinking underscored both the possibilities and the limitations of transatlantic liberalism, as U.S. reformers sought both to make British allies and to extol the superior virtues of American democracy when looking at the legal expansion of the franchise in Great Britain. The excellent essay by Alison Clark Efford examines the French arms scandal. Set in the context of the Franco-Prussian War, the scandal centered on whether the United States selling guns to France through a third party that was under contract with the French government violated American neutrality. The accusations briefly rocked the Washington, D.C., political scene but were soon eclipsed by other official misdeeds in the more famous scandals of the Ulysses S. Grant administration. Efford argues that the arms scandal had a longer legacy by marking a shift in the American political culture. Before it, Americans constantly crowed about the superiority of their political system in comparison with Europe. After it, they pointed to Britain and Prussia as examples of how the United States might do better when it came to...