AHA Activities

What's in the December AHR?

Robert A. Schneider, December 2013

When readers open the December issue of the American Historical Review, they will find articles on Huguenot refugees beyond Europe, the “invention” of Latin America in the 19th century, global configurations of time in the late 19th and the 20th century, and art education in 20th-century South Africa. In addition, they will be able to listen in on an AHR Conversation on the question of scale in historical analysis. As usual, they will also find our large book review section, including five featured reviews. What they will not find, however, is “In Back Issues,” for the simple reason that a hundred years ago the AHR did not publish a December issue.

During the last two decades of the 17th century, nearly 200,000 Protestants fled Louis XIV’s France, and some 5,000–10,000 left Europe to settle on the peripheries of the English and Dutch empires. In “Between Eden and Empire: Huguenot Refugees and the Promise of New Worlds,” Owen Stanwood examines this “global Refuge,” which reveals much about the relationship between states and people in early modern Europe and the wider world. Many Huguenots gravitated toward overseas colonies with a desire to establish Edenic new worlds, colonies where they could build a new, Protestant France. English and Dutch leaders, however, saw the refugees as new people who could further imperial political and economic goals, whether by making commodities like silk and wine on the frontiers of their empires or by occupying strategic places where few other settlers would go. As time went on, imperial interests trumped the refugees’ desire to create a French Eden overseas, as the migrants increasingly settled in the places their hosts believed they would be most useful, from South Carolina to the Cape of Good Hope. Stanwood’s account demonstrates that while transnational religious networks, like that of the Huguenots, had great influence in early modern politics, they ultimately depended on the patronage of imperial states.

Whether they realize it or not, all historians make choices regarding the scale of their historical subjects. Do they focus on a particular person, a specific nation, or a well-recognized community or region, large or small? Do they limit their study to the course of a single event or series of events, a decade, a century, an era, or beyond? How have these questions taken on new urgency with the burgeoning field of world or global history? And what do contemporary concerns about globalization and global climate change have to do with a push among many historians to think both "big" and "deep"? These and other related questions are discussed in this year's AHR Conversation, "How Size Matters: The Question of Scale in History." Pictured in the painting is Napoleon on horseback before the Sphinx, an evocation of contrasting "scales": a single (though certainly larger-than-life) human figure rendered small in comparison to the huge image he contemplates; the necessarily fleeting life of a person confronting a monument that has resisted the ravages of time. Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), Bonaparte Before the Sphinx (1867-68). Oil on canvas.

In “The Invention of Latin America: A Transnational History of Anti-Imperialism, Democracy, and Race,” Michel Gobat analyzes how continents are imagined by rethinking the origins and significance of the idea of “Latin America.” Most scholars assume that French imperialists invented the term in order to justify their country’s occupation of Mexico (1862–67). In fact, however, it was first used in 1856 by elites in the region who were protesting US diplomatic recognition of the filibuster regime that William Walker’s band of US expansionists had established in Nicaragua in 1855. “Latin America” was based on elites’ embrace of a transatlantic ideology of whiteness associated with the European concept of a “Latin race.” Nevertheless, Gobat argues, the idea cannot be reduced to what some scholars consider a form of coloniality. However much “Latin America” rested on racial foundations, it was also imbued with a democratic ethos constructed against US and European expansionism. By showing how “Latin America” resulted from the transnational mobilization of an imperial concept for anti-imperial ends, Gobat underscores a hidden tension that marked the origins of the idea—a tension that in many ways lives on, as is evident in the current debate in the United States over the meaning of Latino/a America. Charting the rise of “Latin America,” he concludes, can help us better understand why certain geopolitical constructions thrive while others fade away.

“Whose Time Is It? The Pluralization of Time and the Global Condition, 1870s–1940s,” by Vanessa Ogle, looks at the history of time unification from a global perspective. It focuses on two different locales, Bombay and Beirut, diverse commercial and intellectual centers located in British India and the Ottoman Empire, respectively. In the increasingly globalized and interconnected world of the 19th century, a preoccupation with time emerged simultaneously in a variety of places. As a consequence, in cities like Bombay and Beirut, European concepts of uniform, standardized time competed with other varieties of time. Attitudes toward time in the two metropolises were shaped by the political circumstances of colonial rule in Bombay, on the one hand, and the threat of future colonial subjugation by Europeans in Beirut, on the other. Therefore, European attempts to introduce uniform mean times and to spread ideas about social time merely added yet another layer to already variegated temporal landscapes. The result was a pluralized global condition of time that required switching between different orders of coexisting times for much longer than commonly assumed.

In “Two Stories about Art, Education, and Beauty in Twentieth-Century South Africa,” Daniel Magaziner examines the training of black art teachers in South Africa as a means of critically appraising contemporary historical scholarship on that country under apartheid. The Ndaleni School existed from 1951 to 1981; during that time it prepared hundreds of Africans to teach the arts and crafts syllabus that the white minority government set for black students under the system known as “Bantu Education.” Although Ndaleni graduates and teachers were products and employees of the apartheid state, Magaziner shows that their lives hardly conform to the Manichean binaries—good/evil, collaborator/liberator—that have long dominated South African scholarship. Instead, he suggests that intellectual life under apartheid both constrained and encouraged creativity and the pursuit of beauty. In detaching the school and its students from South Africa’s conventional narratives, he asks us to consider lessons the South African past might teach that transcend the history of that particular nation.

The AHR Conversation, an experiment in the publishing history of this journal, assembles a group of historians to discuss a topic of general concern using the technological means at our disposal to create a set of give-and-take exchanges that capture as much as possible the liveliness and openness of a discussion. Since 2006 we have published six conversations, each appearing in the December issue of the journal. This year’s topic is “How Size Matters: The Question of Scale in History.” I served as the moderator, and joining me were Joyce Chaplin, an early American historian from Harvard; Ann McGrath, a scholar of colonialism and indigenous history at Australian National University; Kristin Mann, an African historian at Emory University; and Sebouh David Aslanian, who specializes in Armenian and Middle Eastern history at UCLA. In addition, all of these scholars have an active interest in global and world history, which largely provided the theme of the conversation.

February’s issue of the AHR will include the Presidential Address by Kenneth Pomeranz, followed by articles on interracial sex in colonial Africa, notions of citizenship in the context of the Mexican-American War, British responses to the Armenian genocide, and the Atlantic borderlands during the Second World War.

—Robert A. Schneider is the editor of the American Historical Review.