Civil War History 49.2 (2003) 109-110
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Interest in America's Civil War often begins and ends within nationally defined borders. Most narratives of the conflict rarely stray from the United States, except for nods in the direction of the Trent affair, the influences of abolitionists, or the problems of Confederate supply. In the past decades, colonial and Revolutionary scholars made room in their discipline for a transatlantic perspective, giving rise to new scholarship and changing the way professors serve up the colonies for classroom consumption. Despite the fine work of a number of scholars who have expanded the boundaries of knowledge by tracing the flow of influences from both sides of the Pond, the Civil War era has not developed a similar coherent thrust. To some extent this is understandable: the American Civil War was not a true world conflict like many of the colonial struggles. Yet, as Robert E. May observed in The Union, The Confederacy, and the Atlantic Rim (1995), America's Civil War from its inception was an international event, affecting not only the Atlantic rim but stretching in its reach to British India and Russia. It had the potential to change the territorial face of the globe, alter the economic might of nations, introduce new methods of warfare, and hand people an ideological weapon to use in the expansion of their liberties.
The articles in this issue are indicative of the way recent studies have considered the international dimension of the war. They do not represent a new research agenda but suggest common problems being studied and possibilities for new work. Leading off the selections, Michael A. Morrison reconsiders the visit of Magyar leader Louis Kossuth to the United States, indicating that the sectional crisis altered Americans' perceptions of revolutionary movements and their own public memory. Next, Lorraine Peters shifts the view from Britain to Scotland to see what a community study can reveal about European support for America's war. In the third selection, Hugh Dubrulle challenges the notion that the American war left no imprint on the British military. Additionally, the book review section opens with an examination of Richard Blackett's recent, thoughtful study on Britain and the American Civil War. Together, these scholars show that we have moved beyond the tendency to see support for the war in stark, class terms, expanding on the pivotal work of Mary Ellison's Support for Secession (1972), whose study of Lancashire first muddied the scholarly waters. Economic determinism also has broken down as a predictive factor, although economic elements have not been eliminated from the equation. Ironically, the studies suggest that a person's transatlantic perspective was shaped by nationalistic concerns—or even far more parochial ones. Politics and social/economic struggles at home mattered a great deal in how a person digested the various contending currents sweeping the world.
Even these works just scratch the surface of possibilities of the international war. The articles in this issue grapple primarily with the influences of transatlantic [End Page 109] thought and the reasons behind identification with Northern and Southern combatants. Old-fashioned diplomacy may be worth a second look, as might the Caribbean rim in general, the spread of cultural ideals, the attempts to expand the slave empire or capitalize on an illegal slave trade, the similarities and differences of civil wars in the nineteenth century or beyond, and the problems of creating new meanings of freedom and citizenship around the globe in this formative time for nation-state building. The American Civil War may not have been a worldwide one, but its fuller international dimension may yet reap fresh discoveries for those willing to brave the exploration.