Abstract (en inglés)
Global History and the End of the United States Exceptionalism
Norbert Lechner Lecture Universidad Diego Portales
Santiago, Chile October 28, 2008
It is a great honor and pleasure to be part of a lecture series honoring Norbert Lechner. A scholar who was engaged with most significant issues in political life, he brought an expansive understanding of politics and the ethical issues surrounding the legitimation and exercise of power. Chile and Latin America were the focus of his work, but for all whom care for the possibility of democracy will find in his scholarship analytical richness and invaluable insight. My discipline is a different one, but certainly I share his understanding of the civic significance of scholarship and his concern to understand and nourish the culture of democracy. In recent years that concern has brought me to the study of the making of national histories and the role of them in making citizens. My focus is on the United States, but I think the problem I address is evident to a greater or lesser degree in all national histories.
Historians no less than lay people have a difficult time locating a national history in any frame larger than itself. My focus is on the tendency among historians of the United States, but the difficulty is not uniquely American. It has been built into the culture and method of modern academic historiography for more than a century. It is a legacy of our collaboration with the founders of modern nation-states. The job of historians was to contribute to the formation of national citizens, and that meant making the nation the fundamental category of collective identity.