The Historian’s Use of the United States and Vice Versa

David A. Hollinger

in Rethinking American History in a Global Age

Published by University of California Press

Published in print May 2002 | ISBN: 9780520230576
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520936034 | DOI:
The Historian’s Use of the United States and Vice Versa

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This chapter addresses two questions: what the prospects are for national narrative today in the case of the United States, and where do historians of this particular nation now stand in relation to David Potter's dilemma. David Potter assumed that nations would remain the central subject for historians, no matter what. Nearly four decades after he made this assumption, it is revealed that people take the view that nations are only one of many central subjects. The chapter states that one obvious course of action is to focus less on the nation and more on its constituent parts, as well as on the transnational networks of which any nation is a part of. It argues that historians have less use for the United States than they previously did, which suggests that this presumably means there is less danger the United States will “use” historians. One section examines David Thelen's critique of nation-centered history, where he finds that professional historians are insufficiently responsive to public taste. The chapter concludes that no matter what use a historian consciously tries to be to his or her nation, that use is surely best balanced against the instructions of an international community of scholars concerned only with the truth.

Keywords: national narrative; David Potter; nations; historians; transnational networks; David Thelen; nation-centered history

Chapter.  7157 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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