- Reconstruction in a Globalizing World ed. by David Prior
For too many years, Reconstruction history seemed to stop at the water's edge—that water being the Ohio River. Only recently have scholars given it a more national scope, spreading its impact to Comanche and Modoc country and the barrios and Chinatowns of the West. Now Reconstruction in a Globalizing World carries it overseas, not as diplomatic historians do by focusing on war, expansion, trade but by uncovering what non-Americans learned from Reconstruction and how Americans, home-grown and naturalized, helped to shape its course. Like most collections, the topics range far and wide, onto four continents and into two hemispheres. Along with this varied subject matter, again like any collection, the individual chapters bear an uneven quality—in this case, happily, between good and superb. [End Page 509]
Matthew J. Hetrick's study of Liberia College finds parallels between the search for uplift and preconceptions about color and class in the Reconstruction South and in the first black African republic. Julia Brookins looks into the special contributions made to postwar Texas development by German immigrants. Evan C. Rothera connects the liberal program of Argentine President Domingo F. Sarmiento and American reform movements mid-century, and Caleb Richardson shows how much the context of a free republican society changed the meaning of get-togethers among rank and file Fenians from what they had been in Ireland. The "Great Republic," as it liked to call itself, was not just a model for much of the rest of the world but also a participant in the movement of transatlantic liberalism. As Mitchell Snay's chapter about Republican editors' coverage of Britain's Second Reform Act makes clear, Americans were well aware of their role.
Readers may protest that Reconstruction in a Globalizing World tells little about such globalization, much less the world. They may object that, except for two chapters, it fails to show that any groups outside the United States noticed Reconstruction or drew lessons from it at all. Historians exclusively steeped in the context of the period, as generally depicted, may wonder if in some cases, the authors have overstated the contribution of the foreign-born to the results: Alison Clark Efford's useful investigation into the Grant administration's arms sales to France, for example, may not have been the watershed moment that readers may infer it to be. It was just one among many complaints that a growing liberal-republican faction had against governmental dishonesty. Indeed, British standards for a professional civil service and British free-trade precepts may have influenced reformers a lot more and a good deal earlier than the arms scandal. How differently would Reconstruction in Texas have turned out if no German-Americans had settled there?
Even if they doubt certain conclusions, readers will not doubt the general subject's vital importance. So many other groups and countries shared in the interaction that a weighty tome could be made just listing the chapters that await writing. Many of them, presumably, would go farther in mining sources from other countries and in languages other than English, German, and Spanish. They also might do what most of the chapters here do not, take a close look at the mutual interaction between countries. Fenian picnics may have served different functions in the United States than they did in Ireland, but readers may long for that bigger picture, of how American conditions informed Irish modes of resistance and how the interconnection of families across the Atlantic both alleviated and exacerbated the tensions between Britain and Ireland. Stateside editors' perspective on Britain's Second Reform bill casts fresh light on how they understood democracy or misunderstood parliamentary politics, but how far were British reformers informed in their remedies by what they saw in America?
If Reconstruction in a Globalizing World does not go nearly far enough, it falls short because no volume of any reasonable size could do better. [End Page 510] Instead, it makes a promising start on a venture that will need...