Images of the United States in Nineteenth-Century Europe and Latin America
Public lecture, 8 May 2008
This is a comparative history project with 7 case studies; one that could only be done collaboratively
Participants and corresponding case studies:
PI: Prof. Nicola Miller, Professor of Latin American History, UCL: Argentina and Cuba
CI: Dr Axel Korner, Reader in Modern European History, UCL: Italy
CI: Dr Adam Smith, Senior Lecturer in US History, UCL: Britain
Research Assistant: Dr Kate Ferris, UCL [at University of St Andrews from September 2009]: Spain
PhD studentships: Maike Their, working on France and Natalia Bas on Brazil
During the first year, Dr Stephen Wilkinson worked on the project as a Research Assistant, collecting material on Argentina and Cuba.
The purpose of this project is to explore the role played by images of the United States in debates in these seven societies about what it meant to be modern.
Perhaps even more than is usually the case, each of the key words in the title of this lecture evokes a series of questions:
1. Images – why focus on images, why do we see them as a historical source of special significance?
-- We’re looking not just at visual images but textual ones too.
There is a widespread tendency to think of images in terms of the visual, but pictures can be vividly conveyed in words too; drawing on W.J.T Mitchell’s argument: ‘there are no “purely” visual or verbal arts, though the impulse to purify media is one of the central utopian gestures of modernism’, our images are both textual and visual – indeed, the power of many of them derives from the fact that they are both, so that their effects are created through an interaction between the visual and the textual.
This is not to say that form and genre are irrelevant -- of course, it matters whether someone chooses to convey an image visually or verbally; of course, there are particularities to the interpretation of visual images – societies create norms about seeing – visual intelligibility – but overall, we resist the tendency to oppose visual image and text.
We also see the creation and the reception of images as related processes, each shaped and affected by the other. We therefore seek to overcome the divide in the literature which tends to separate out the study of US self-projections from perceptions of the US in other societies.
Images are in several senses associated with falsifying, deception, artificiality, superficiality, even in the positive sense of idealisations – yet they are also carriers of what many deem to be a greater truth: symbols and signs of hopes and dreams, desires, assumptions, prejudices and expectations. Images constitute sites where the interplay between views from within (how you see yourself) and views from without (how you are seen) is momentarily frozen and illuminated; they are, therefore, a source for exploring what Charles Taylor called the social imaginary – the ‘self-conceptions, modes of understanding’ that constitute the background experience of social practice or what
Koselleck referred to as spaces of experience and horizons of expectation.
We see images as Walter Benjamin’s ‘constellations saturated with tensions’, where the synchronic and the diachronic intersect; they are sites of contemporary preoccupations and accumulated impressions – in short, they are bearers of history. They are therefore valuable historical sources for that subjective element without which it is hard to understand why the idea of being modern has proved to have such lasting and widespread appeal
In sum, we are taking ‘the United States’ as a metaphor for the aspiration to become modern.
2. Nineteenth century
Why the nineteenth century?
Specifically, it’s the later 19th century that we chose to focus upon, from the Civil War to the Spanish-American War, i.e., some time after some of the most famous images of the United States had already been created, such as Alexis de Tocqueville’s, Democracy in America, 1835-40; or, to mention a couple familiar to British audiences: Mrs Frances Trollope’s, Domestic Manners of the Americans of 1832; or Dickens’s American Notes, 1842.
We deliberately chose to focus upon the period before the US became hegemonic in Latin America; before the US projection overseas becomes a sustained and concerted process; before the US starts official large-scale programmes of sending its people abroad – as marines, missionaries and magnates.
Yet this is also an era of increasing circulation of people, goods, ideas -- primarily because of technological and economic changes:
–1860s: trans-Atlantic cable; volume of mail across the Atlantic doubled (Britain and USA); circulation of periodicals, newspapers and literature increases rapidly; more long-distance travel (mainly elites for leisure/pleasure but far more extensively than hitherto by migrants in search as a better life). Such developments were by no means confined to Europe: there is plenty of evidence now for quite a remarkable expansion of modern associational life in Latin America during this period; press – newspapers to add to the already extensive periodical literature (primarily urban, to be sure); religious festivals and community celebrations, not to mention state-organized commemorations added to the creation of a public life enacted in public spaces.
We found – somewhat to our relief – that images of United States were indeed ubiquitous in the public spaces of the late nineteenth century – especially in Britain, as you’d expect, but it was found to be so in all of the case studies, at least for certain periods.
During this period, America is a place people feel they know – it is part of their own experience, at least their imagined life; above all, perhaps in Britain, where a self-consciously transatlantic intellectual community develops, but certainly also in Cuba and, to a lesser but still significant extent elsewhere. In some of our case studies, this is true mainly for the elites – e.g. Spain – but we found surprising social depth in others, e.g. Britain, Cuba and Italy.
Thus, we chose to concentrate upon the late nineteenth century because we are interested in what happened before the projects, missions that have been the focus of much recent work on reception of the US abroad (most of it on the twentieth century); we seek to explore all the less willed and organised ways in which perceptions and ideas migrate and are translated, transposed—that is what our project is about.
First, it was necessary to map images of the United States in all the different countries studied, which we did through a wide range of sources: parliamentary/congressional debates, learned journals, periodicals, newspapers, novels, poetry, popular magazines, graphics, cartoons, photography, memoirs/chronicles, travel writing, essays, visual art, theatre, music, plus materials on exhibitions, parks, streets, shops, arcades, posters, public buildings and the design of museums.
This enabled us to address the question: What factors shape extent to which images of US were more or less affected by events in US itself or in other country?
-- volume of contacts e.g. lots of Americans visited Cuba from 1830s, including some redoutable women, e.g. the Peabody sisters -- Sophia, wife of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Mary, wife of Horace Mann, went 1833-4; Julia Ward Howe, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, went in 1859. Who were the North Americans that people actually encountered? In Latin America, they were mainly engineers, entrepreneurs and filibusters, with few cultural figures at that time.
-- information – distance, quantity, quality; assassination of Garfield (1881) – big impact in Britain (real time news) and France; itineraries – travel or of the imagination – where in the States did people choose to go? gracious Boston and Philadelphia or brash, confident Chicago; New York or Texas? Several of the most influential commentators on the United States never actually went there: e.g. Gladstone – ‘Kin beyond Sea’, 1878 article in North American Review; John Bright; Edouard Laboulaye, whose Histoire des Etats-Unis (based on lectures at the Collège de France, 1848-9) was more widely read in France than de Tocqueville.
-- who carries the images, how and why; where is their cultural capital invested?
-- where disseminated? and to which audiences?
-- what were the main debates in the receiving society?; what were social conditions there and how did they shape reception?
For example, the Cuban independence leader José Martí became famous in the twentieth century, especially after the Cuban Revolution of 1959, for having disseminated informed criticism of the United States from his time living there in the 1880s and early 1890s, so the tendency has been to assume that but the evidence is that his articles were far more influential outside Cuba than in it until the 1920s, when disaffection about the US role in Cuba became widespread; positive images of the US were prevalent until late into 1890s, even after the Spanish—American War.
We identify key figures and touchstone texts, the most ubiquitous of which was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, translated in 1852 into French (Harriet Beecher Stowe had a highly successful visit to Paris) and in 1853 into Portuguese; it continued to be repeatedly referred to in all the countries studied throughout our period. Another touchstone text was Edouard Laboulaye’s Histoire des Etats Unis (1867), which vividly illustrates how different contexts shaped different responses: in Spain, his discussion of the military received a lot of attention, as did his material on the institutions of civil society; Spanish liberals were less interested in his discussion of the Constitution, unlike in Argentina, where readers of Laboulaye did pick up on what he said about constitutionalism. In France, the focus was quite different: French readers were mainly interested in Laboulaye’s emphasis on US as a race apart – ‘la race americaine’.
It is harder to do, but we also aimed to identify not only what did get translated, circulated and transferred but also what did not – e.g. the USA developed a vigorous pro-slavery discourse based on the claim that forced labour was reconcilable with modernity, which was not manifest in Brazil; both pro-slavery and abolitionist discourses steeped in religion in the United States, a factor disregarded in both Brazil and Spain.
The extent to which US expansionism was discussed varied widely, as did which aspects of it were noticed. In Britain, for example, it was remarkable how even in the racially aware radical press, there was complete indifference to massacres of native Americans; the Mexican-American War featured prominently in France, but was barely mentioned in Argentina.
Our focus, then, is on the internal dynamics; on how ‘the American way of life’ was integrated into debates about very particular national concerns. Such an approach poses a series of challenges to existing historiography.
-- It has a particular ideological charge in Latin America, the countries of which are often assumed to be ‘dependent societies’ with histories explained (away) by relations with external powers. Our approach also has implications for the historiography of Europe, which has an opposing tendency to underestimate the significance of external reference points.
-- We also challenge the prevailing tendency to assume that the presence of American culture leads to Americanization, e.g. in Robert Rydell and Rob Kroes, Buffalo Bill in Bologna: The Americanization of the World, Univ. of Chicago Press, 2005.
-- Our work questions any assumptions about absolute attitudes towards the United States – love or loathing; uncritical emulation or contemptuous rejection; Americanism/anti-Americanism. In most places, at most times, positive and negative images were juxtaposed – we are trying to map how these were affected by class, race, gender, politics, events, and how they changed over time. We also question the assumption that
images and identities were constituted mainly bi-laterally (between the United States and any particular country), arguing for a more complex set of exchanges involving other participants from both Europe and the Americas.
-- Our work poses a challenge to the view that the second half of the 19th c. was merely a prelude to empire (‘The Road to Empire’ or variations on it often being the title of the chapter on this period in histories of the United States), and to a corresponding sense of the inevitability of US territorial commercial cultural expansionism.
The third term in the title of this lecture that requires elaboration is:
Europe and Latin America were selected for this project as the two areas of the world most closely connected to the United States by history.
The rationale for our choice of case studies is set out below, illustrated with some images to give you a sense of how they relate to national debates.
[Please see the accompanying Powerpoint presentation, which shows all the images discussed below]
Britain: US practices a crucial referent in political debates – not only among the political classes but in working-class organisations, too – e.g. Durham miners’ leader who worked in Pennsylvania, for whom time in US is key reference point; Tyneside mobilisation against the Ku Klux Klan Act, petitioning US Congress – sense that had right to do so;
Extraordinary persistence in Britain of idea of US as a land of opportunity, esp. among working class, evident in mass circulation newspapers, with radical leanings – even after Haymarket (4 May 1886)
Overall, a juxtaposition of negative and positive images; some division along political lines; if a chronological shift can be discerned, it was from negative to positive images
Strong sense of ambivalence about whether the US was truly other, foreign
Anglo-Saxon racial kinship served as a powerful framework for understanding English images of the United States
Image: The Graphic, 6 April 1872; a self-consciously respectable news and literary weekly;
Allegory alludes to the Chicago fire of 1871 and the Lancashire ‘cotton famine’ during the Civil War in order to ‘effect a reconciliation’ between ‘the two Great English-speaking nations of the world’. The central figure is the Angel of Peace; to the left, Britannia administers aid to the victims of the Chicago fire, with flames behind; to the right, Columbia gives food to starving cotton mill operatives (who issued statements of support for the Union despite the hardships caused to them by the lack of cotton to weave), with a spinning jenny behind. The point of the image is that despite tensions caused by the Alabama claims (British-built warships used by the Confederacy), the two nations are bound by their common characteristics of charity and commitment to peace; the settlement of the dispute – by arbitration – presented by both parties as a model of conflict resolution
France – as France moved towards democracy from 1848 into the Third Republic, the United States offered a comparison of a model republic – the revolution that did not lapse back into reaction – when discussing US politics, the French emphasis was less on the constitution (as in Spain) or the institutions (as in Cuba) but rather on civil society – mainly through Laboulaye; a feature already highlighted by de Tocqueville (similar emphasis in Argentina). Images of the United States were highly politicised in France – can legitimately talk about a war of images. England and Germany remained crucial other referents, but the US was important; images were by no means all positive -- even the liberals, who admired US politics, despised the culture – the specifically French concept of ‘culture’ became the terrain upon which French difference—from the United States and from Anglo-Saxonness more broadly -- was marked out
One revealing case study concerns the phylloxera crisis, which used to be viewed as an episode of botanical or agricultural history, but which Maike’s research shows to be deeply imbued with conflicts about cultural identity. Phylloxera is a bug that kills vines; it came from the United States, arrived in the 1860s and reached epidemic proportions in the 1870s, with devastating effects for French viticulture. There were two possible cures: one to treat the infected vines with sulphur; the other to plant US vines, which had greater resistance, or graft French vines on to them. A scientific dispute ensued between Américanistes and the sulphuristes; the former won out in the end, but not without bitter resistance. These debates about the applicability of American ways of doing things were conducted not just in scientific terms but in broader cultural terms, positing ‘essential differences’ between America and Europe – all of which played a crucial part in creating the mythology of wine and its connaisseurship as quintessentially French. Both the disease of phylloxera and its cure came from the United States – capturing the widespread sense in France that the United States had the potential both to corrupt and to cleanse, morally, culturally and politically.
Images: phylloxera bug; wine label; cartoon
Italy – the case study where the US was perhaps the least salient presence – politically, there was far more preoccupation with European affairs; even so, images of the United States did feature in Italian cultural and political life, not least because the Italians claimed Columbus as their own, promoting him as the archetype of the Italian humanist genius; so that even though the Italian states were politically detached from trans-Atlantic exploration, ideas about the New World animated intellectual and philosophical debates. What is particularly interesting is the extent to which exoticised images of the New World featured in the operas and ballets that became Italy’s principal art forms during the late seventeenth century. What started in 1690 with Ottoboni’s Il Colombo was still popular in the nineteenth century: Donizetti wrote a Columbus opera and in 1894 in Bologna Toscanini conducted Alberto Franchetti’s Colombo (1892). Even more curious in this context is the extraordinary popular success of the ballet stagings of Uncle Tom’s Cabin during the 1850s, at La Scala as well as in the Papal States – these shows were received among Italians as indicative of conflicts that US society was unable to resolve.
As a political model (successful revolution) images of the United States became prominent during the events of 1848-9; later, the Risorgimento and the specific search for a constitution for the new Italy stimulated a strong interest in the US model of federalism. It is also noteworthy that there was some active US support for the Risorgimento, esp. from Presbyterians, who endorsed the anti-papal emphasis; for Italians, this was a source of contrast – Italians represented themselves as anti-papal but not anti-Catholic.
Learned journals and intellectuals such as the leading Republican poet Carducci condemned the positivism and materialism they associated with the United States, at a time when Italian intellectuals were drawn to Hegel’s idealism. On the extreme Left, towards the end of the century, the fate of Italian emigrants to the United States was frequently compared to that of the ‘negroes’. However, on a more popular level, the image of the land of opportunities remained powerful and was frequently evoked in illustrated magazines. A particularly popular image of the self-made man was that of Benjamin Franklin
Image: Franklin, from Illustrazione Popolare of November 1874
In general, in Italy, positive and negative images of the United States coexisted in equal measure throughout the late nineteenth century;
Even positive images tended to have negative edge—liberal periodicals of the 1860s carried articles endorsing the federal model but lamenting what they saw as the rise of cultural mediocrity
Spain –US images became very prominent during what was known as the revolutionary or democratic sexenio (6 years) of 1868-74, a period of political upheaval created by attempt to implement liberal republicanism – the first republic lasted only 11 months, and this period used to be seen as an episode of failure in a long trajectory of decline culminating in civil war and Francoism, but revisionist historians have recently emphasised the importance of the sexenio in the process of modernising Spain; images of the US, particularly as a constitutional model, had high status and impact at this time (although out of date images – de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America); as model of abolition
Competition from the British model, especially after the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1875; praise for US often proxy for admiration of Britain – US as translator of British principles; culturally, France the major point of reference
Ambivalence throughout; positives strongest during First Republic (1868-74); growing mistrust towards end of century, but still quite nuanced interpretations – even as late as 1895, some positive views
-- Edison’s phonograph
-- máquina para fabricar yanquis (Yankee-making machine) from satirical illustrated journal, Blanco y negro, 11 April 1896
The Spanish had long demonstrated a fascination with US capacity for invention – Edison’s phonograph, in particular, was greatly admired when first patented in 1878 and Edison acclaimed in Spain as archetypal US inventor with a sharp eye for business, a combination that meant his inventions would change the world. As tensions between Spain and the United States rose over Cuba, after the second war of independence was launched in 1895, the Spanish press became increasingly antagonistic towards the United States and their admiration turned to uneasy mockery – inflected by concerns about the potential impact the US capacity for mechanical invention could have for the waging of war. The Spanish press were quick to point out the superior size, newness and technological sophistication of the US fleet. But even contraptions apparently entirely unrelated to war were satirised as evidence of US belligerence, particularly in the leading satirical journal, Blanco y negro.
Here, for example, is Edison’s phonograph, in a cartoon of 1897, turned into a combative device. Ministers of the Spanish govenrment, witnessing a demonstration of the marvels of Edison’s device for relaying sound, find, on close inspection, that the machine can play only one tune, the ‘vulgar song of senators Morgan, Sherman, Cullom etc.’ – who were the most prominent and vocal supporters of the Cuban independence fighters, unremittingly hostile to colonial Spain. The phonograph’s repertoire consisted only of ‘an anti-Spain speech’, then ‘the second act of the same’, third, ‘a continuation of the previous’ and finally ‘the same as the first’. The accompanying text asserts that the machine’s inventor would soon have his come-uppance: ‘The day will come when they will come a cropper with all their machinery, and he’ll be told to get lost, the phonograph guy, the Yankee who shows all these marvels’ .
Another example from the same magazine parodied US inventiveness with a machine to make yankees. From ‘cheap’ materials, including ‘filth’, ‘fat’, ‘sawdust’ and ‘left over bits of cork’, the whirring and whisking of the steam-driven machine produced identikit ‘yankees’ in top hat and tails. Thus, the Spanish satirists tapped into the association of the US with inventions and innovations not only to disparage the perceived US character – uniform, vulgar and aggressive – but also in order to demarcate Spain’s difference as a nation unimpressed by such modern methods of mass production – in the face of the increasing enmity and evident military superiority of the United States.
4. Latin America
Argentina: the US symbolised what its own Revolución de mayo of 1810 meant, namely the Enlightenment of the masses
Often thought to be the Latin American country most closely comparable to the United States; comparable economies (temperate agriculture), immigration etc.
Four aspects of the US had particular resonance in Argentina: i) universal education; several Argentine visitors highly impressed by US commitment to widespread literacy: ‘el unico pueblo del mundo que lee en masa’ (Sarmiento, Viajes, 1845, 99); ii) agricultural practice; iii) aspects of the political system -- famously, the Argentine Constitution of 1853 drew in important respects on the US constitution (also California), but emphasis in Argentine debates was on civil liberties – partiuclarly religious freedom -- rather than institutional arrangements, which they came to see as a negative model - by 1870s Argentines were arguing that when they had adopted US political models and British economic ones, they had got it the wrong way round; iv) increasingly, image of US rapaciousness
The key figure in creating Argentine images of the United States was Domingo F. Sarmiento, leading liberal intellectual – who was president 1868-74; a founding father -- who – despite quite a lot of revisionist work – is still widely characterised as an imitator of the United States, with all the associations of Argentina being behind, backward, etc. – this is a retrospective view and you cannot understand the history of Argentina in the nineteenth century from that perspective
As an examples of textual images: Sarmiento, ‘North and South America’, A speech given to the Rhode Island Historical Society, 1865.
-- US as nation bedazzled by the founding modernity of its constitution – ‘without precedent’ for its commitment to justice—but blind to the fact that modernity is relative, that it has constantly to be striven for, that it is not an absolute; US has failed to take on board that pursuing its own expansionist policies ‘was to turn back to two thousand years ago, and utterly to renounce the initiation of the new reconstruction of human society’ .
Grossness: ‘it is dangerous to convert the Federal System into an invading republic, swallowing ever, without being able to digest’;
-- US as a nation that does not know itself, does not understand its power, does not appreciate its impact upon the rest of the world – obsession with self-sufficiency means that it is not open to the other and therefore has little gauge of self. Earlier in its history, US more receptive to others, including LA, therefore had greater self-knowledge (esp. 1820s).
Precursor of the US as blundering monster; Cyclops; it was in Argentina that the characterisation of the United States as Caliban, the incarnation of barbarism, first began
-- US as nation with its ideals in the past, whereas the Argentine Republic has its ideals in the future
Argentina: marked chronological shift in mostly positive mostly negative images by the 1890s;
Brazil: key issue was abolition; War of the Triple Alliance (1864/5-70) opened up debates about modernisation of Brazil – images of US played meaningful role; like Argentina, Brazil saw itself as rival embodiment of modernity in the Americas
Image: ‘Chegada do paquete City of Rio de Janeiro’, Revista Illustrada, 1 July 1878
The arrival in Rio de Janeiro on 29 May 1878 of the first steamer owned by the Roach Company was celebrated as a national event that marked the beginning of a new era of commercial intercourse between Brazil and the United States. Leading Brazilian newspapers welcomed the contract with the Roach Company, presenting it as a harbinger of prosperity and the success of the other great undertaking with the United States, namely the attempts to attract skilled US farm workers to Brazil.
By the mid 19th c. literary Romanticism had established the figure of the indigenous as the prototype and symbol of what was authentically Brazilian. The representation of Brazil as an indigenous male became common – a graphic convention ubiquitous in the illustrated press. In this example, what is intriguing is that the vigorous Brazilian indigenous male is represented as standing on equal footing with another equally powerful native male figure representing the other great American power.
The composition of the two American powers shaking hands suggests a symbolic break with the traditional bonding with Europe and the prospect of a mutually beneficial trading relationship with the United States. It unveils Brazil’s own claims to being the South American version of the US experience of modernity (claims that were contested by Argentina). This aspiration, fed in part by some historic similarities – continental size, colonial experience, Eruopean immigration, displacement of native peoples, slavery, vicinity of Hispanic America – was a Brazilian ambition since the aftermath of the Paraguayan War. The image of the United States encapsulated what Brazil wished itself to become – an industrialised, business civilization – but more civilised, more humane, more authentic than the United States
Chronological shift in Brazilian images of the United States from positive to negative.
Cuba: US as increasingly viable alternative to Spain as possible model for the future nation; long history of self-representation as interpreter of US and LA to each other; the triangular dynamic of Cuba/Spain/US established early: José Maria Heredia and Félix Varela to US 1823 – ‘the land of liberty’ and ‘an immense place of refuge for all the oppressed’ (1826) – and lasted longer in Cuba than other Latin American countries; even though that same year John Quincy Adams famously described Cuba as the apple waiting to fall from the tree of Spain into the lap of the USA (one of the earliest, starkest statements of US expansionist impulse) and despite failure of US to help Cubans in their first war of independence; images of the United States resonant among separatists, autonomists, annexationists and also among some supporters of Spanish rule, who were correspondingly critical of the United States;
Cuba: overwhelmingly positive for a long time; late shift from positive to negative
Image: Cuba: translation of Carnegie’s Triumphant Democracy, trans. by autonomista (advocate of autonomy from Spain) Raimundo Cabrera in 1886, author of the best-selling Cuba y sus jueces (1887) – an analysis of Cuba’s failings and inadequacies that established the United States as the key comparison for Cuban self-perceptions; published as Los Estados Unidos – only about half of the original text; reordered quite a lot -- a manifesto for self-government as ‘what determines the progress and happiness of peoples’.
Illustrations of comparative perspective
Two levels of comparison: within Europe and Latin America; between Europe and Latin America
To give an example of comparisons within Europe, let’s take the inescapable event of the period, the US Civil War
-- in Britain as: indication of US capacity to overcome obstacles and consolidate strong nation-state – for conservatives, especially, showed the importance of solid, durable institutions (Bryce, The American Commonwealth); for radicals, revived Paine-ite view of US as crucible of freedom and democracy – overwhelming importance of Lincoln
-- in Italy as sign that US no longer a valid model for republicanism; feuilleton stories about murderous housewives in the Wild West during the Civil War; Italy’s decision to centralise rather than become a federation a lot to do with horror at the excesses of the civil war
-- in France, by the Left, struggle of the North seen as metaphor for their own resistance, continuing defence of the values of revolution (US a revolution brought to a successful conclusion); abolition not perceived to be the main motivation, but expansionism of North; popular opinion abolitionist, but pro-South –> a position sustained by the rather tortuous argument that slaves in the South treated better than freemen in the North
-- in Spain, by conservatives, who were against both republicanism and colonial reform, as evidence of US 'barbarism' and its inappropriateness as a role model for Spain. Progressives, who advocated US-style abolition and/or a federal republic for Spain, either skirted around the issue of the civil war or, when they did acknowledge it, painted it as a simple, polarised battle between a 'good' abolitionist north and a 'bad' slave-owning south. They also seem to have swallowed - at least they often repeated it - what Adam said was the US's 'spin' on the civil war - that it had been a kind of ultimate test of the US's values and institutions, and these had emerged from the war all the stronger.
Our main route to comparison and identification of transnational networks is through themes:
Latinity and Anglo-Saxonism
A powerful illustration of the entanglement of images
In France, around mid-century, debates shift from earlier de Tocquevillian images of the US as a country of advanced democratic practices and highly developed political institutions into the creation of the Anglo-Saxon Americans as the antithesis of a race latine, an idea linking French people to Italy, Spain, Portugal and their descendants in the Americas. Invented in the context of French debates about identity in relation to both England and the United States, Latinity became an imperialistic idea with Bonepartist expansionism in 1860s, French attempts to establish empire in Mexico hostile reactions there and elsewhere in LA; but some intellectuals in LA, drawn to French culture, pick up upon the idea and there is increasing evidence of its presence in various parts of LA from the mid-19th c. onwards – although I still think it’s accurate to claim that it doesn’t achieve widespread impact until after Spanish-American War, when repackaged as route to differentiation of common community to unite against danger of US expansionism
Connects to the construction of the Black Legend of Spanish rule from wihtin the United States, which was part of the separation of America into the Americas – North and South, or Anglo-Saxon and Latin; and the appropriation by the United States of the utopian promise earlier attached to the Americas as a whole; brings out how images of the other conditioned not only by own self-images but also by the other’s images of yourself
By mid-19th c. US perceived Latin Americans as effeminate, irrational and inferior – not manly and rational (O’Brien, 5); Latinity embraced in a complex sequence of repositioning in relation to France, Spain, the United States – also England – French Latinity was very anti-English, but in Latin America most of the negative qualities of Anglo-Saxonness were acquired in transit across the Atlantic Ocean
Latinity also fed into Spanish self-definitions, which in turn affected thinking in Spanish America
Anglo-Saxonism received positively in Britain but negatively Yankeeism in France, Spain Argentina,
Images of the South: after c. 1877, the South disappears off the radar in Britain; southerners not really part of the Anglo-Saxon community;
In Italy, seen as brutal – compared to the Italian South (not good enough to be part of Italy) – a wild lawless place, where promiscuous women roamed unchecked;
in France, southerners not seen as part of the Anglo-Saxon race; in Spain, widespread commitment to abolition complicated by interest in free trade – the south seen as progressive because of freetrade policies; in Brazil, the Southerners’ defeat seen as what would happen to Brn elite if took relaxed attitude towards abolition
Grotesqueness of the northerners and their manners/ contrasted by Latin American visitors, particualrly women, with graciousness, attractiveness and hospitality of the South;
Other themes – to be explored in the workshop tomorrow:
Land of opportunity
Constitutionalism, republicanism and democratic practice – civil society (non-state institutions seen as important in France; Argentina; Britain)
Models of abolition
Domesticity, women and the social order
Could also discuss: technology, urban models, religiosity
Returning the idea of the US as a metaphor, we can see the range and diversity of its meanings:
Britain – for institutional legitimacy; for the seemingly endless potential of progress
Italy – for co-existence of progress/liberty and vulgarity/barbarity
Argentina – for founding ideals (the Enlightenment: reason as guiding force of the affairs of the republic; popular sovereignty; education of the masses for citizenship) – and their betrayal;
Brazil – for the promise of science and technology
Cuba – for the promise of political liberty and prosperity through autonomy as a nation-state – for the possibilities of sovereignty (almost exclusively political)
Spain – for an ideal republic – in theory if not in practice; an unnatural modernity – technological success at expense of culture and harmony with nature;
France – a revolution that fulfilled its promise; avoided reaction; achieved a successful outcome
The United States as the site of multiple possible futures -- ‘a fictional space’ – onto which the diverse dreams of modernity -- and its nightmares -- have been projected
I’ve tended to emphasise the differences in the role of images of the United States in different contexts, but there are some points of similarity
-- US as culturally lacking – good at distribution (literacy, schools, libraries) but not production – strong in France, Italy, Argentina, Brazil; evident in Britain, Spain and Cuba; idealist intellectuals – yes in Spain, LA (Emerson) not in Italy (only Poe!)
-- what makes the US attractive is what it produces – goods for comfort, ease, entertainment – making life enjoyable for everybody – the idea that modernity should be for all – in this sense, democratic – far more important than right to vote
Anthony Trollope, North America, 1862: ‘The great glory of the Americans in in their wondrous contrivances,--in their patent remedies for the usually troublous operations of life’ (120)
Great and enduring appeal of the American Way of Life (the power of the American model; the force of its example) – not pioneering conquests of the wilderness, or all the bigness of the United States, but rather its success in making everyday life easier, more pleasurable; ‘America’ is other is all sorts of big and alarming ways, but the same in certain comforting small ways
-- Key element of its attractiveness = capacity to absorb and revive elements of the European – which is further confirmation of the value of the transnational and comparative approaches that will be explored in the workshop tomorrow.