A Hemispheric Revolution? The Americas, c. 1760s–1820s

Thursday, January 7, 2016: 3:30 PM
Salon A (Hilton Atlanta)
Nathan Perl-Rosenthal, University of Southern California
Take a look at two maps of the Americas, say from 1750 and 1850, and a remarkable shift becomes apparent. The before picture shows a hemisphere divided between European colonies and Native polities, with populous Spanish possessions occupying the lion’s share of the territory. Look again a century later and the colonies are almost all gone, replaced by nation-states. In the new map, the United States is one of the largest, most populous states, and native polities (a few exceptions aside) are gone or in decline. At the heart of these transformations lay the revolutions-cum-independence movements that swept the hemisphere in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, beginning in North America, continuing in the Caribbean, and then inundating all of Latin America after 1800. These revolutions have long drawn scholars’ attention as origin points for distinct national historiographies and particular regional historiographies (especially Atlantic and Pan-American). Over the past two decades, however, scholars have begun to sketch the outlines of an interconnected hemispheric revolution. It has taken shape around new work on the borderlands of the American Revolution; on links between the Caribbean (especially Cuba and Haiti) and Latin America; in work on the entangled histories of the Haitian and American Revolutions; and in scholarship on revolutionary travelers, mercenaries and cosmopolitans.

The hemispheric vision of the revolutions in the Americas has arisen from independent shifts in the geographic, thematic, and methodological orientations of scholars working on the individual revolutions. Following wider trends in the profession, historians of revolutions in the Americas have refocused their attention on areas formerly considered to be margins and borderlands (maritime as well as terrestrial). Working on these zones, which were also contact points among empires—places like the Caribbean, Gulf Coast, northern Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean—has drawn scholars’ attention to inter-revolutionary connections.

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