Process Blog Home

What’s in the March Issue of the Journal of American History?

The March issue of the Journal of American History is now online for subscribers.

Included are four articles: “Regenerating the World: The French Revolution, Civic Festivals, and the Forging of Modern American Democracy, 1793–1795” by Matthew Rainbow Hale, “Accounting for Conquest: The Price of the Louisiana Purchase of Indian Country,” by Robert Lee, “Singing Exoticism: A Historical Anthropology of the G.I. Songs ‘China Night’ and ‘Japanese Rumba'” Shin Aoki, and “’We Can’t Grow Food on All This Concrete’: The Land Question, Agrarianism, and Black Nationalist Thought in the Late 1960s and 1970s” by Russell Rickford. We’ve included previews of these articles below.

Our yearly textbooks and teaching section is focused on Globalizing the U.S. Survey. Articles by Carl J. Guarneri, Mary Ann Heiss, Patrick Iber, and Molly M. Wood offer various approaches toward that end.

The book reviews section features the usual complement of books from across the breadth of American history. Feature reviews include Naoko Shibusawa’s review of Gary Y. Okihiro’s American History Unbound: Asians and Pacific Islanders, Jennifer Mittelstadt’s review of Lisa McGirr’s The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State, Brooke L. Blower’s review of Kiran Klaus Patel’s The New Deal: A Global History, and David K. Johnson’s review of Lillian Faderman’s The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle

Digital history projects reviewed in this issue include American Panorama: An Atlas of United States HistoryThe American Yawp, The American Archive of Public Broadcasting, and The Pacific Northwest Labor and Civil Rights Projects.

Previews of Articles

When did Americans—some Americans, at least—start calling themselves “democrats”?  What did it mean to identify as a “democrat” in an era when doing so was unprecedented?  Most recent historians of the American Revolution and early republic too casually employ the words democrat, democratic, and democracy, rendering it impossible to answer those questions. Matthew Rainbow Hale, in contrast, interrogates the rhetoric of “democracy” and shows that the French Revolution not only spurred the first self-conscious democratic movement in American history but also served as the forge through which an expanded version of democracy revolving around social as well as formal political imperatives emerged. With their focus on egalitarian fraternity, pro-French Revolution civic festivals held in the United States embodied those social imperatives, paradoxically helping establish modern democratic politics.

After paying France $15 million for the Louisiana Purchase, the United States spent far more to extinguish Native American title to the same land. Just how much has eluded historians, who have long cited a questionable estimate from the 1940s. Robert Lee, in the essay that won the 2016 Louis Pelzer Award, revisits that estimate and revises it dramatically upward by tracking federal expenditures for Indian soil rights within the Louisiana Territory made between 1804 and 2012. At the heart of the analysis lies a methodology that organizes forensic accounting data from Indian claims cases for broken treaties in a custom-built geodatabase of Indian land cessions. Once tabulated and visualized, the results challenge the textbook view of the Louisiana Purchase as a stunning real estate bargain.

From the Allied occupation period through the 1950s, how did American servicemen who were stationed in or visiting Japan experience exoticism? As a history of emotions and popular music, Shin Aoki’s article—which received the 2105–2016 David Thelen Award— explores the complex production and consumption processes of two songs, “China Night” and “Japanese Rumba,” that were popular among U.S. officers and soldiers in post–World War II Japan. Examining the G.I. experiences in listening to and singing these songs, the article allows readers to reconsider exoticism as not simply a mode of feeling linked to colonialism but also a form of human experience offering pleasure and triggering transcultural encounters.

Russell Rickford examines pastoralist discourses within black nationalist theories of land and autonomy during the black power movement. In the 1960s many African American thinkers saw urban enclaves as sites of incipient black nationality. By the decade’s end, however, an array of black nationalist intellectuals and organizations had embraced rural settings within and beyond the American South as alternative domains of black sovereignty. The shift from urbanism to agrarianism as a framework for envisioning the ideal “land base” reflects nationalism’s penchant for mythmaking as well as the resilience of black America’s political and cultural quest for sanctuary and self-determination.