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Day 2

I was intrigued today by our critical assessment of Bender's methodology or personal biases. For example, it was noted that while Bender emphasizes the causal role of ideas about race as passed from Europe to America, he does less with ideas as such. The questions I pose now are:


(1) Does he in fact do so? What examples and counter-examples can we find in his book? (2) Why does he do so?

(3) What are the effects of this de-emphasis of intellectual history (or other relevant causal factors) on his work?


I'm not ready to respond to (2) or (3) yet. But I have found an example of (1), from the chapter on empire my group analyzed. The passage in question is in the penultimate paragraph of page 215. The context is the opium war, in which China prohibited the importation of opium and Britain used military force to rescind this prohibition. Here Bender does bring up intellectual history, but in a curious way. In discussing the pro-British position of John Quincy Adams on the issue, Bender states:


". . . Adams lent his support to the British position with an argument against China's 'anti-commercial' stance that was predictably learned but also tendentious. He insisted that 'the right of exchange, barter, or, in other words, of commerce, necessarily follows' from the right of property, which was protected by natural law. He went even further: commerce was not only a natural right but one of the 'duties of men.' And not only men but nations had this duty: 'Commercial intercourse between nations is a moral obligation.'

     This resort to a natural-law argument was prompted, no doubt, by the lack of support for his position in leading theories of international law. . . ."

Basically, rather than taking Adams's words on their face, Bender discounts Adams's stated beliefs about natural law as disingenuous or self-serving: the only reason Adams made the argument was that international law (since China had the legal right to close its borders to trade) would not do.


My question now is: do we agree with Bender's interpretation? Or does it reveal an anti-intellectual history bias? When people from history tell us about their moral beliefs, do we take them seriously?


Maybe Bender is merely saying that Adams chose the argument that would be persuasive to his audience under the circumstances. But to me the word "tendentious" implies otherwise.


Do I have something here, or am I making a mountain of a mole hill?



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  • Response to Topic #2 Question and Thoughts: by Kevin Brownsberger

    In the Baumian dialog of Bender’s methodology of analysis of history, I find myself appreciating what Bender is seeking to accomplish. As he puts it, “We need a history that understands national history as itself being made in and by histories that are both larger and smaller than the nation’s. The nation is not freestanding and self-contained.” The connections are many and to understand the history, the voices and events need to be heard and seen and thought about. Bender refines his approach to themes of American history in a context larger than the nation.  While some may disparage Bender from not analyzing the other, I applaud his refinement, as well as focusing on a limited set of topics within the larger story. Duh, his next three book are about the rest of the topics if my peers want more. The challenge is that history is tangled set of stories all interplayed. It is the playing of the variety of angles of the stories over and over from multiple views that give the concept of the history, and this is to continually be added on even then. It is important to not aim for constructing a revisionist history with important topics or view left out, and Bender is not aiming this way. But he is encouraging new looks, especially, as he suggests, in light of that the world is an ocean and the continents are the islands and the Ocean is a highway, a highway of connections. Much courses these highways that influences Nations and States. These islands are not isolated as we would think in our definitions of ourselves. American history is very much part of the global history.

    I am still pondering the original question presented to us and the potential exemplification to answer it.
    When did the topic of race become part of the historical dialog and how has this dialog changed over time as mankind’s ideas about race have shifted. It is hard to extrapolate what is race issues and what transferred from Europe to America, or the reverse, versus “us vs them” paradigm or to impose modernistic bias as a filter. It is hard to know the specifics about this without the primary sources and many of them commenting and responding.
    In (lengthy yet informative dialog of) Chapter 4 Empire Among Empires, Bender does significant storytelling, bringing in details I was not aware of that aid the story and gives references to the resources to where many were brought in from. For one who is eager to know the foundation for his positions, reading these primary/secondary works would expound their ideas and give further substance to their knowledge.  Its as if his resources are a necessary part of the story. Not being able to reflect it all, he hones it down for his line of thinking and storytelling. As he discourses through interesting details of Roosevelt’s then Wilson’s Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, from the Spanish American War, to the Opium and Boer Wars, to British, German, and French Militarism and Emperialism seconded by America and Japan, I find Bender loose with tying his thesis together with his storyline as he concludes an era. Maybe its me in not being able to retain and tie together all that he says.  Maybe he is arguing against other voices in the academia of historical interpretation that I have not heard. But it is engaging to consider the making of America and what motivated her, be it liberal internationalist idealism or financial and political construction for economic pre-eminence. America to this day does have a passion for the display of moral rectitude and the pursuit of profit.
  • After my doing my civic duty last  week--jury duty, I decided that I better post this comment #2.


    I read chapter #3 in Bender's book.  This was the chapter entitled "Freedom in an Age of Nation Making".  I had forgotten  (if I actually knew) all most all of the information on what used to be called the rise of the nation states so most of this chapter was "virgin territory " to me. 


    Since the chapter is meaty, like all of Bender's chapters, I found the exercise of working with a group of colleagues to map the chapter a very worthwhile enterprise. There were whole parts of the chapter that elluded me and having others point out the keypoints was useful.  We got to gnaw the bone of the book, growl about the incomprehensible points, and then make some sense out of it so we could present it to the rest of the class.


    Truthfully, I will probably never use the Bender book with a class of mine but I did find the information--the idea of taking a more global view/approach to history--intriguing.  Sometimes it is possible to become too insular. And I think that when we think in terms of "American history" or "European history" or "African history" we fall into that insular trap. The problem with Bender is that his whole approach is circular.  Those movements like "freedom", "birth of new nations", "industrialization or technological change" or "civil rights"  just never end. They are like the tides.  Power and change just keeps ebbing and flowing.  They are happening somewhere around the globe all the time.  And those changes or movements never line up nicely.  As a result, they are messy to study.  Maybe that is the whole point--the study of history is the study of people and people are messy.


    At any rate, i am going to spend the rest of the summer rethinking the key themes in the ASD 4-6 social studies curriculum so that I can see how to add new resources to the library. I will be looking at your lesson plans while I look for materials to purchase for the library so that the teachers in my building will have some new things to add to their lesson plans.  And maybe, just maybe, on a cold dark day in Anchorage,  I will start a conversation about the ocean world and history with some unsuspecting teacher.


    Cheers.  Have a great summer.    


  • I believe that while Bender is helping us to realize that there are many interpretations and points of view that factor into any event in history, even Bender himself is subject to his own prejudices resulting from the culture that helped focus his point of view. Therefore, Bender chooses to emphasize certain events more because they fall in line with his point of view. They lend credence to the ideas he has developed. At the same time he makes less mention of or de-emphasizes other events because, according to his point of view, they have little or no influences on the event and decisions he is trying to explain.


    You find the same thing happens, although with less of an all encompassing view, when you read about events from another country's history books. Their take on events and their point of view is influenced by the culture they have experienced. I think this is evident in the events surrounding our first encounter with Korea as illustrated in Bender's book. Two distinctively different cultures with two different points of view did not see or understand the events that were taking place the same way. This resulted in further misunderstanding, which resulted in the break-out of hostilities. Then, after the conflict was over, both sides viewed the results differently due to their different points of view, which were influenced by their different cultures. Both sides ended up claiming victory because they both viewed the events from completely different perspectives and prejudices.


    This is what I think is Bender's greatest contribution. Even though he himself is subject to the prejudices that he grew-up with which helped influence his point of view, he points out the importance of studying all the cultures surrounding an event. Considering all cultures will help us to better understand their influence on the different points of those who are involved in the event. If we can learn to do this, we will have a much broader and consequently better understanding of the events of the past and will hopefully make better decisions during events in the future.
  • After reading the second chapter of Bender's book, I have to revise my earlier statement in class that he didn't seem to pay any attention to the ideas of the Enlightenment and their impact on the politics and government organizations of the era of exploration. 

    He does mention that, in fact, the American Revolution had profound impact on the revolutions that would follow, first in France and later in the mid-1800's throughout the rest of Europe, and the conservative blowback that occurred as the old guard sought to hold on to an authoritarian model of governing. 

    Prior to the late 1700's, however, there seems to be scant mention of the impact of philosophy on the evolution of governing in the colonies. That seems a bit short sighted to me in light of the turmoil that radically changed governing in Great Britain in the 1600's and gave the subjects a much bigger voice. I don't know why Bender seems to ignore the impact of ideas during this period, but it may be that he felt that there is not enough solid evidence to make a case for it. 

    On page 73, referring to the late 1700's, he says, "Enlightenment ideas traveled, and so did news of specific challenges to imperial authority, whether in the metropole or on the periphery. And this information circulated far beyond a narrow elite; it has been shown that it was available to African-Americans in the Caribbean, slave and free."

    This would seem to cement the idea that, in fact, there was a great awareness of new philosophies. I guess I just do not understand why Bender didn't spend more time uncovering their impact. 

  • I think Bender is bringing some of these notions into more popuar currency. but many of them are not new. I do not know if Bender is so much "anti-intelellectualism" and he is anti-exceptionalism. What I mean by that is i do not think be intends to be a counterweight to the intellectual current in Amercian history but rather, trys to  point to America's role in world history (and geography, culture, economics, etc.) is unique rather than exceptional.


    Bender is a clarifying force to Manifest Destiny. Manifest Destiny as the idea that the United States has a God-given destiny to spread our institution, langauge, customs, and culture from sea to sea and pole to pole. Further it is the resposibility of politicians and leaders to provide the environment/ structure to make this process move along as smoothly as possible.  Because this philosophy has its origins in Divine guiadance it was not much a "Leap of faith" to gop from the "City on a Hill" to Amercia and the chosen country in world history.

    Bender's biggest service is he helps the students see the United States in the content of other countries and peoples going through similar things at similar times. The response to industrialization is case in point for this.

  •      A Nation Among Nations is a dense book that overlaps, intersects, and connects historical events, people, and places.  Chapter two focuses on the "Great War" and the American Revolution.  In this chapter, I feel Bender does succeed in explaining how the Great War between European powers became the foundation of "social conflict" in the British American colonies.   In response to Mike's question about intellectual biases in Bender's writing, I read, re-read, and read again chapter 2 (okay, I feel asleep the first time).  I failed to find any solid evidence of bias in his research.  If anything, he overdid supporting his examples of global connections to the American Revolution. 

         On pg. 75 and 76, Bender cites "While taxes were a significant issue, this rebellion-which soon became a full-scale insurgency-was fundamentally the result of a clash of political ideas and practices......"  He continues to use an Incan economic rebellion by natives and Creoles as a connection to the colonial rebellions over the Stamp Act.  On p. 80, Bender uses the brilliant analogy of a doughnut to explain "The French and Indian War" which became the "first global war fought on every continent."  On p. 84-85, Bender manages to wrap ideas from Age of Enlightenment into the British rights to the Habsburg Empire to Vienna to Russia to resistance to the Stamp Act!  He presents a balanced wrap-up by finding evidentuary support for his arguments. 

         In chapter 2, Bender makes no attempt to connect race to his arguments.  As lengthy as the chapters in this book were and as layered as his arguments were, racial connections were not needed or warranted.  I felt that Bender's arguments were persuasive without it.  Mike asked if he was making a mountain out of a molehill by posing this question.  My response is that in the case of chapter 2, he is. 

  • I think that the primary focus of A Nation Among Nations is to look at how after the oceanic revolution the world was much more intertwined.  Bender's idea was that events that occurred in one location could impact another portion of the globe. 

    I agree that Bender doesn't spend much time on looking at race, however he does mention it where it supports his argument.  I think that he almost assumes that we already have this knowledge about oppression and expects us to make the connection.  I also feel that if he spent enough time diving into the idea of race we would be complaining that he was veering off topic and that the chapters were way too long.

    I think that history almost always to told by the victor (or the oppressor) and this does impact our views of the way things happened.  There has been a revival of telling those stories that have been suppressed.  Unfortunately some of their history has been lost because of the thoroughness of the invaders.  

    I think that in order to gain a complete view of history you need to explore all sides and voices.    

  • Question 1 --No Bender does not spend much time on race because the chapters are already to long. 


    Question 2--There would 100 volumes if he covered race indepth.


    Question 3 --The effects are that the reader doesn't get a complete understanding of the individual historical period.


    Question 4 --Adams Quote requires more information to determine if Adams was being disingenuious.  Was the quote footnoted?  From where and when?  Is there enough room in the book to explore his moral beliefs in this book.  On its face the quote was used to support trade thank you Adam Smith. 


    Question 5-- You are making a mountain of opium out of a Bender hill.  Enjoy.

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