- There’s No Place Like Home, Except London and Paris
United States history has entered a definite transnational/international turn. The H-Net job guide does not lie—take a look at the proliferation of “America and the World” positions in the last couple of years. Books for college courses, too, tell the story: in short order, titles have appeared by Walter A. McDougall (Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World Since 1776, 1997); Thomas Bender (A Nation among Nations: America’s Place in World History, 2006); Ian Tyrrell (Transnational Nation: United States History in Global Perspective since 1789, 2007); Carl J. Guarneri (America in the World: United States History in Global Context, 2007); Lawrence A. Peskin and Edmund F. Wehrle (America and the World: Culture, Commerce, Conflict, 2012); and—the strongest evidence of all—a U.S. history survey text by Michael Schaller et al. (American Horizons: U.S. History in a Global Context, 2012). The trade press, too, is active; witness the attention devoted to Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton: A Global History (2014) and Don Doyle’s The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War (2014). And I could reach the word limit of this essay just by enumerating the recent literature on American slavery in a global context.
Yet historians have been slower than scholars in other disciplines to examine travel as a cultural practice—that is, in examining travel and foreign residence as behaviors that create meaning and express ideologies. The two books under review here, with varying degrees of success, do that. Although they are very different in focus and tone, both examine Americans who resided abroad, asking how their residence in the Old World influenced foreign [End Page 138] relations, challenged preconceptions on both sides of the Atlantic, and shaped national identities.
Though not animated by a single big idea, Nancy L. Green’s study of Americans in Paris between the wars (despite the stated time frame, the focus here is really on the interwar period) proves to be a complicated and rewarding book. The “other Americans” of the title are not the usual suspects one encounters in most studies and Woody Allen movies about this period: not Fitzgerald, Stein, and Hemingway (though, to be sure, they all make multiple appearances). Rather, Green is interested in the Right Bank expatriates, a hodgepodge of socialites, entrepreneurs, ex-soldiers, club owners, salesmen, lawyers, and secretaries who, far more than the Left Bank literati, represented the United States in Paris. Green is interested in the American colony in Paris—meaning permanent or semi-permanent residents, not tourists (even if Green often blurs the line between them). If there is one theme propelling this book, it is that these people were not exiles from modernity, seeking in Europe some “authentic” cultural experience free from the vulgarity of U.S. life. Rather, the American colony in Paris devoted itself to selling the American Way to the only-sometimes reluctant French. They came to claim membership for the United States in Western Civilization even as they sought to demonstrate the superiority of a distinctly American variety of that civilization. Part exiles, part patriots, part cosmopolitans, these women and men saw no contradiction between their desire to enjoy the cultural splendors of the City of Light and to make money while doing so. In a lively, even jaunty style (calling to mind Harvey Levenstein’s delightful Seductive Journey: American Tourists in France from Jefferson to the Jazz Age, 2000), The Other Americans seeks to find the roots of post–World War Two Americanization—and anti-Americanism—in the socially ambitious and business-savvy colony on the Right Bank of the Seine.
That colony was a self-conscious and self-regulating community that distinguished itself not merely from other foreign...