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

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By Kristin L. Hoganson

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

Why 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?!”


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

By Jeannette Eileen Jones

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

Why 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.


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

By Brian Rouleau

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

Why 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.


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

By Ian Tyrrell

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

Why 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.


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

By Ikuko Asaka

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

Why 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.


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