Globalization of the United States, 1789-1861
Coltons General Atlas of the World

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Between the American Revolution and the American Civil War the United States built a continental nation — and it also built a global empire.

In 1789 the country amounted to no more than a fragile collection of thirteen seacoast states encircled by the British empire to the north, the Spanish empire to the south, and many Native American nations to the west.  By the fateful year of 1861 the United States had managed to expand across North America and to project diplomatic, commercial, military, missionary, and scientific power into every corner of the wider world, second only to the British empire.

Projecting the reach of the United States throughout the world required the effort and determination of many Americans willing to cross vast ocean distances on sailing ships and steamships ... to negotiate, to trade, to battle, to proselytize, to explore.  It moreover required the knowledge and promotion of many writers urging their countrymen to venture across the globe in the face of opposition and indifference at home, and competition and resistance abroad.  Over the course of three generations Americans would succeed in shrinking the geographical distance between the United States and almost every other place in the world — even as they would come to magnify the cultural distance between themselves and almost every other people on the globe.

This exhibit gleans from the Lilly Library’s exquisite collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century books to capture this paradox of interconnection and disconnection enacted by a nation attaining continental size and an empire reaching global scale.  The formative era between the American Revolution and the American Civil War helps us appreciate how difficult efforts to extend the global reach of the United States were in the century before the so-called “American Century,” and it remains highly instructive as Americans confront dilemmas of globalization and imperialism in the present day.

This online version of the exhibit offers complete digitized copies of all books and maps in the exhibit, and features an interactive digital map using world maps from the early nineteenth century to trace American diplomatic, military, commercial, missionary, and other activities in the world as they changed over time between the American Revolution and the American Civil War.

Main Features of the Digital Exhibit

pointing handan interactive digital world map using five historical maps and ten variables of historical data to trace activities of the United States around the world in the years between the American Revolution and the American Civil War.

pointing handten thematic sections with links to complete digitized copies of all the historical books in the exhibit.*

pointing hand“lightboxes” providing a short transcribed excerpt from each historical book (except atlases).

pointing hand“image carousels” providing a sampling of images from historical books in each thematic section.

pointing hand“image essays” at the bottom of each page, gathering together striking images on the same theme from across the historical books in the exhibit.

pointing handresearch resources including a timeline of the era, a select bibliography of scholarly books, some digital history links, and guides to the books and images in the exhibit.

* Digitizing the historical books is a laborious process being done by overworked staff in an understaffed library.  As of January 2016, some books are still in scanning production; links will become live as soon as scanning is completed.

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Creative Commons License Globalization of the United States, 1789-1861 by Konstantin Dierks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.