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Rethinking American History in a Global Age$
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Thomas Bender

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780520230576

Published to California Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520230576.001.0001

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

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

(p.381) SIXTEEN The Historian’s Use of the United States and Vice Versa
Rethinking American History in a Global Age

David A. Hollinger

University of California Press

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

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