Simultaneous not separate past

New Countries: Capitalism, Revolutions, and Nations in the Americas, 1750–1870
Edited by John Tutino
2016, Duke University Press
397 pages, plates, paperback

STUDENTS of history everywhere should take a look at this collection, which reflects an exciting trend in the discipline that has stepped outside hitherto dominant parameters of analysis to challenge “the presumptive reign of Anglo-European primacy in global economic history”. That primacy has meant until recently that the study of nation-building in the key period examined by this book straddling the end of empire in the Iberian world and the rise of independent states – a highly complex, nuanced process in which global economic changes sparked local political movements to develop new polities and new economies – has been examined largely as a self-contained phenomenon that coincided with other transcendent changes in Europe and Asia. The “new history” that is now being written might also be termed “pure history” by seeking to remove the Eurocentric impurities that have muddied the broad currents of research, or “integrated history” for seeking to integrate developments in the Americas comprehensively in the same global processes that were shaping Europe and Asia also. Tutino writes: “In this volume we analyse the emergence of nations … across the hemisphere in the light of changing global relationships. Too often, the conflicts that led to the new American nations and the innovations that generated the British industrial revolution appear as simultaneous but separate – the definition of historical coincidence. We see them as simultaneous and inseparable.” [p3] Tutino argues that the founding dynamism of the early American silver and sugar economies, the challenges in the late 18th century of war and political innovation, revolutions in colonies such as Haiti, and the struggles to build nations in a changing global economy demand an integrated analysis if scholars are to fully understand the transformation of the Americas after 1750 and the rise of British and later US capitalism. This collection therefore explores all these themes to situate the Americas more precisely within the global rise of industrial capitalism, with contributions that among other themes look at the hemisphere’s relationships with Spain and Britain, slavery in the US, the revolution in Haiti, and the indigenous role in nation-building. – EC