The best books on the USA and the world in the nineteenth century

Stephen Tuffnell Author Of Made in Britain: Nation and Emigration in Nineteenth-Century America
By Stephen Tuffnell

Who am I?

I am a historian of the United States' global pasts. What excites me most in both research and teaching is approaching familiar topics from unconventional angles whether through unfamiliar objects or comparative perspectives. To do so I have approached the US past from the perspective of its emigrants and the global history of gold rushes, and am doing so now in two projects: one on the ice trade and another on the United States’ imperial relationship with Africa between the Diamond Rush of 1867 and the First World War. I currently teach at the University of Oxford where I am a Fellow in History at St Peter’s College.

I wrote...

Made in Britain: Nation and Emigration in Nineteenth-Century America

By Stephen Tuffnell,

Book cover of Made in Britain: Nation and Emigration in Nineteenth-Century America

What is my book about?

The United States was made in Britain. For over a hundred years following independence, a diverse and lively crowd of emigrant Americans left the United States for Britain. From Liverpool and London, they produced Atlantic capitalism and managed transfers of goods, culture, and capital that were integral to US nation-building. In British social clubs, emigrants forged relationships with elite Britons that were essential not only to tranquil transatlantic connections, but also to fighting southern slavery. As the United States descended into Civil War, emigrant Americans decisively shaped the Atlantic-wide battle for public opinion. 

Blending the histories of foreign relations, capitalism, nation-formation, and transnational connection, Stephen Tuffnell compellingly demonstrates that the United States’ struggle toward independent nationhood was entangled at every step with the world’s most powerful empire of the time. With deep research and vivid detail, Made in Britain uncovers this hidden story and presents a bold new perspective on nineteenth-century trans-Atlantic relations.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Consumers' Imperium: The Global Production of American Domesticity, 1865-1920

Why did I love this book?

We are all aware of how modern homes are filled with goods from around the world, but have you ever wondered what this looked like for nineteenth-century Americans? This is the book for you. It’s a tour de force of synthesis and imaginative research. Join Hoganson on a tour of middle-class homes in the Gilded Age and see how decoration, cooking, fictive travel, dinner parties, and other household objects were all part of a strenuous effort to appear “cosmopolitan” and to exert power through consumption of the non-western world. This is the kind of book that makes you proclaim time and again – “why didn’t I think of that before?!”

By Kristin L. Hoganson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Consumers' Imperium as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Histories of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era tend to characterize the United States as an expansionist nation bent on Americanizing the world without being transformed itself. In ""Consumers' Imperium"", Kristin Hoganson reveals the other half of the story, demonstrating that the years between the Civil War and World War I were marked by heightened consumption of imports and strenuous efforts to appear cosmopolitan. Hoganson finds evidence of international connections in quintessentially domestic places - American households. She shows that well-to-do white women in this era expressed intense interest in other cultures through imported household objects, fashion, cooking, entertaining, armchair…

Book cover of In Search of Brightest Africa: Reimagining the Dark Continent in American Culture, 1884-1936

Why did I love this book?

This is a breathtaking book. The image of the “Dark Continent” seems so ingrained in our understanding of how Africa was perceived in the nineteenth century that it’s hard to overturn it. Jones does just that, showing how Pan-Africanists, naturalists, and filmmakers reimagined Africa as a site of regeneration for a variety of different ideas. But it’s about more than that – it’s a serious challenge to confront what you think you know about Africa today too.

By Jeannette Eileen Jones,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Search of Brightest Africa as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Traces the history of the idea of Africa with an eye to recovering the emergence of a belief in ""Brightest Africa"" - a tradition that runs through American cultural and intellectual history with equal force to its ""Dark Continent"" counterpart.

Book cover of With Sails Whitening Every Sea: Mariners and the Making of an American Maritime Empire

Why did I love this book?

It’s not possible to understand the United States without understanding its maritime past. Rouleau takes us onto the forecastle to show just how important US mariners were (how could they not be when 100,00 departed the republic each year?) in a vivid account with lots of surprising details drawn from scrimshaw and logbooks. These working-class diplomats shaped the foreign perception of the United States in port cities around the world through their (often violent) encounters with foreign peoples, their onshore carousing, and their spread of black face minstrelsy around the globe.

By Brian Rouleau,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked With Sails Whitening Every Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Many Americans in the Early Republic era saw the seas as another field for national aggrandizement. With a merchant marine that competed against Britain for commercial supremacy and a whaling fleet that circled the globe, the United States sought a maritime empire to complement its territorial ambitions in North America. In With Sails Whitening Every Sea, Brian Rouleau argues that because of their ubiquity in foreign ports, American sailors were the principal agents of overseas foreign relations in the early republic. Their everyday encounters and more problematic interactions-barroom brawling, sexual escapades in port-city bordellos, and the performance of blackface minstrel…

Book cover of Reforming the World: The Creation of America's Moral Empire

Why did I love this book?

Reforming the World sees Ian Tyrrell, the master practitioner of transnational approaches to US history, at the peak of his powers. After tackling the world temperance movement, and US-Australian environmental connections, Tyrrell here turns to the “soft power” of Christian missionaries and evangelicals as they proselytized around the world and hoped to remake it in their image. You cannot fail to be gripped by the idiosyncratic personal histories of Tyrrell’s protagonists which he captures with characteristic attention to detail, humanity, and clear-eyed analysis. This is an important story in its own right, but what’s important is the way in which it sets the scene for US power in the twentieth century.

By Ian Tyrrell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Reforming the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Reforming the World offers a sophisticated account of how and why, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, American missionaries and moral reformers undertook work abroad at an unprecedented rate and scale. Looking at various organizations such as the Young Men's Christian Association and the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, Ian Tyrrell describes the influence that the export of American values had back home, and explores the methods and networks used by reformers to fashion a global and nonterritorial empire. He follows the transnational American response to internal pressures, the European colonies, and dynamic changes in global society.…

Book cover of Tropical Freedom: Climate, Settler Colonialism, and Black Exclusion in the Age of Emancipation

Why did I love this book?

This is transnational scholarship at its best. Asaka tells the story of how the history of emancipation in Canada and the United States is intertwined into the history of efforts to exile freed people to tropical climates around the world where they could be used to create a monopoly over indigenous lands. This is a tale of hemispheric proportions, taking the reader from North America to the Caribbean and the East Coast of Africa, but of global importance – telling as it does the history of the racialization of freedom in the Age of Empire. Just as important, and told here in arresting fashion, are the ways in which black activists contested and remade those spaces.

By Ikuko Asaka,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tropical Freedom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Tropical Freedom Ikuko Asaka engages in a hemispheric examination of the intersection of emancipation and settler colonialism in North America. Asaka shows how from the late eighteenth century through Reconstruction, emancipation efforts in the United States and present-day Canada were accompanied by attempts to relocate freed blacks to tropical regions, as black bodies were deemed to be more physiologically compatible with tropical climates. This logic conceived of freedom as a racially segregated condition based upon geography and climate. Regardless of whether freed people became tenant farmers in Sierra Leone or plantation laborers throughout the Caribbean, their relocation would provide…

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