Reframing American History in a New Book on North America

In this month’s guest blog post, Kevin Jon Fernlund discusses his new book out this month,  A Big History of North America: From Montezuma to Monroe. Fernlund is a Professor of History at the University of Missouri – St. Louis and is the author of Lyndon B. Johnson and Modern America (2009) and William Henry Holmes and the Rediscovery of the American West (2000). From 2001 to 2002, he was a Fulbright Scholar in Vietnam and between 2006 and 2012, he directed the Western History Association.

In a new book published this January by the University of Missouri Press called, A Big History of North America: From Montezuma to Monroe, I have tried to rewrite the American story by placing it in a continental as well as a transatlantic and transpacific context.  This is not another national narrative on the rise of the early US republic, of which there are many, but a new North American history, inclusive of Mexico, of which there a very few.

In fact, most histories of North America either explicitly divide the continent by geography and culture between British North America, that is, Canada and the United States—the continent’s Anglosphere—on the one hand, and Mexico or Mexico and Latin America—the continent’s Hispanosphere—on the other.  This history seeks to integrate the histories of these three countries into a single narrative, which sets it sharply apart from older Anglo and Hispanic historiographical traditions.

This is a story of revolving relationships and reversals of fortune, which reveal a rich as well as tragic North American history, one largely hidden from view by the separate national and conventional histories of Mexico, Canada, and the United States.

What this history is not is what is called “transnational history,” which downplays the nation state in history.  I actually emphasize the origins and evolution of the nation state in the history of North America, in particular in regard to the important issue of security and the building of borders, much as European historians have done in writing the history of Europe.     

This history is a “big history,” if a qualified one. The historian Stephen Pyne once said that the “sciences deal with figures, and the humanities, with figures of speech.”  Big history bridges the divide between the sciences and the humanities by seeking to unite natural and human history.  In my case, I specifically try to tie together the two fields of geography and history.

. . .

Read the entire blog post on Fernlund’s blog here.

To read a sample of the book, click here.

A Big History of North America: From Montezuma to Monroe

by Kevin Jon Fernlund

Cloth | $95.00 | 376 pp., 21 B&W illus.

Paperback | $30.00 | 376 pp., 21 B&W illus.

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