The idea of universal history is conventionally associated with nineteenth-century writers and the project of imperialism. This article presents an expanded definition of universal history, one that covers unified histories of the known world or universe, histories that aim to illuminate universal principles, histories of the world unified by the workings of a single mind, and histories of the world that have passed down through unbroken lines of transmission. Encompassed in the broader range of this definition are works by authors who are conventionally seen as marginalized by nineteenth-century historiography. Using the works of two African American authors—Robert Benjamin Lewis and William Wells Brown—as a case study, this article highlights the complexities and cross currents of universal history writing by those on the margins, and the importance of voluntary associations in the production and circulation of their texts.


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pp. 99-130
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