Cover image for Americana : the Americas in the world around 1850 (or 'seeing the elephant' as the theme for an imaginary western
Americana : the Americas in the world around 1850 (or 'seeing the elephant' as the theme for an imaginary western
Dunkerley, James.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
London ; New York : Verso, 2000.
Physical Description:
xxvi, 642 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


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E18.83 .D86 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The Americas of the 1850s provides James Dunkerley with compelling material for this majestic and unorthodox book. Drawing on a range of contemporary sources, from Walt Whitman to Charles Darwin, Anthony Trollope, Karl Marx and Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, he adopts a fully Atlanticist perspective to reappraise the first steps in American modernity. Americana  is arranged around major themes: time and space, culture, political economy and international relations. Between these more general discussions are edited transcripts and commentaries on three court cases from the period which both divert and illuminate: John Mitchel's 1848 conviction for treason in Dublin which led him through Bermuda, Tasmania and Nicaragua before joining the Confederate cause in the US Civil War; Myra Gaines' suit for the return of her legacy which reveals her Sligo-born father to have conspired against Jefferson and treated with Napoleon's agents in the sale of Louisiana; Mariano Munoz's trial for releasing a prisoner on Good Friday in the style of Pontius Pilate which draws the curtain back on Francisco Burdett O'Connor, prefect of Tarija, elder brother of the Chartist leader Feargus and Simon Bolivar's chief of staff.

Americana seeks simultaneously to savour the language and sensibilities of the nineteenth century in the Americas and to provide a pleasurable critique of contemporary vanities over globalisation and the complex sophistication of modernity.

Author Notes

James Dunkerley is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary, University of London, and Director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas. His books include Rebellion in the Veins , Power in the Isthmus and The Long War , all published by Verso.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Not often, academic books--like works of art--are written for the delight they provide to their authors and not for any overt scholarly reason. This seems to be case of this voluminous work, in which events of Latin American and North American history occurring around 1850 are weaved into universal history when considered in retrospect, or "read backwards," as the author suggests. The action is played on multiple and so dissimilar stages such as Dublin, Tarija, La Paz, Buenos Aires, Nicaragua, Philadelphia, California, Texas, and northern Mexico, and the characters--"Dramatis Personae"--line up in different epic categories; even Karl Marx makes a cameo appearance. There is a high degree of erudition in the argumentation of the cases presented and deep care for anecdotal details in the investigation of coeval happenings. The interlacing of seemingly unrelated events suggested may be controversial to some historians, but the originality of the treatment is indisputable and its messages contagiously stimulating. The text must be savored in several consecutive summers and through frequent perusal in order to appreciate its full richness and complexity. General collections. C. N. Caviedes University of Florida

Table of Contents

Dramatis Personaep. ix
Mapsp. xiii
Prefacep. xxi
A Little Time (and Space)p. 1
Marking Time
US Time
Latin American Time
Indigenous Time
Atlantic Space
First Casep. 57
The Queen v. John Mitchel, The Commission Court, Dublin, May 1848
Cultures in Contentionp. 99
Religion and Rome
Old Spain
Civilisations and Barbarisms
Race, Custom and Difference
Southern Arcadia
Feminist Forepieces
Singing Sex
Marx and Bolivar
Second Casep. 243
Myra Clark Gaines v. Relf and Chew, Supreme Court of the United States, February 1852
Political Economiesp. 303
Explanations of Empire
Tariffs and Textiles
Land of Plenty (for Some)
On the Road to Somewhere
Slavery Days
Latin Bondage
Confronting the Slave Trade
Third Casep. 437
Mariano Donato Munoz, defendant before the Supreme Court of Bolivia, June-December 1850
Empires at War (and Nearly So)p. 481
Becoming American (Again)
Destiny Manifest, Elephant Visible
Heroes without a Cause?
Politics in Command
Sights on the Mosquito Shore
Kings and Consuls
Testing the Balance of Power
The Grey-eyed Man (and the Tall Fellow)
Appendicesp. 613
1. The Course of the Mexican-American War
2. The Mosquito Shore and Nicaragua, 1844-60
Thanksp. 621
Picture Creditsp. 624
Indexp. 626