J.C. Nott and George R. Gliddon. Types of Mankind: or, Ethnological Researches, Based Upon the Ancient Monuments, Paintings, Sculptures, and Crania of Races, and upon their Natural, Geographical, Philosophical, and Biblical History.... Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co.; London: Trubner and Co., 1854. p. 458.
American authors of geography books provided their middle-class white readers with an imagination of the world and of the status of the United States within that world. By the 1850s geography was commonly taught to the youngest of children in American primary schools. Purporting to present “knowledge,” geography books were obsessed with cultural comparisons between the United States and the rest of the world, comparisons flattering to middle-class white Americans, unsurprisingly.
Those ethnocentric comparisons constructed a national identity for Americans by following three lines of argument: civilizations, continents, and races. Some places and peoples in the world were deemed to be in a savage state, some in a barbarous state, a few in a civilized state, but the United States was one of very rare — maybe five — countries in the entire world assigned to be at the highest state of “civilization,” and “modernity.”
Continental identity were less satisfying because North America was enduringly associated with Native Americans, the continent’s historical inhabitants, not with the United States, its new sovereign power. “Americans” — white citizens of the United States — were considered honorary “Europeans.” Moreoever, on maps as in geography books there were several imperial “Americas” surrounding the United States well into the nineteenth century: “Spanish America,” “British America,” and “Russian America.”
Racial identity was more satisfying to the white middle-class readers of American geography books. Even Harriet Beecher Stowe, famous for her 1852 condemnation of American slavery in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, expressed in a schoolbook three years later racist disdain for non-white peoples around the world. Who was able to venture into the wider world beyond their own space in it? Who was able to learn about the world without ever venturing into it? Geography books assured white middle-class Americans that only “Caucasians” and “Anglo-Saxons” were blessed with the capacity for such global knowledge and such global power.
By the late 1830s the United States had attained diplomatic, commercial, missionary, and military reach and presence on a global scale. Yet the ability to overcome geographical distances to other places in the world served mainly to magnify Americans’ sense of cultural distances from other peoples. Popular geography books taught American schoolchildren unthinking racist disdain for most peoples in the world. Scientists of the 1850s helped turn this casual racism into sharply delineated cultural affiliations purely with the European, the Anglo-Saxon, the Christian, and the Protestant.
By the 1850s too, Americans were increasingly deemed themselves to stand at a unique and favorable confluence of the Atlantic and Pacific worlds. The terrestrial continental vision motivating the 1804-1806 “Lewis and Clark Expedition” became a fully and firmly global one already before California statehood in 1850. Yet while many Americans were penetrating the wider world, nativist Americans were trying to prevent the wider world — Irish and Chinese railroad laborers in particular — from entering into the United States.
EXPLORE DIGITIZED BOOKS
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Jedidiah Morse. The American Geography; or, A View of the Present Situation of the United States of America. Elizabeth Town: Shepard Kollock, 1789.Declaring intellectual independence from Europe, Morse imagined that American geographical knowledge would grow in sophistication as the nation grew in size.
John Melish. A Geographical Description of the United States, with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions.... Philadelphia: Published by the author, 1818.Melish insisted that American geographical knowledge must change annually to keep up with the “rapid” “progress of society.”
S. Putnam Waldo. The Tour of James Monroe, President of the United States, in the Year 1817.... Hartford: Printed by F.D. Bolles and Co., 1818.In recording the second tour of the United States by a President, Waldo deemed nationalism to be innate to people, and cosmopolitanism to be impossible.
Edmund Dana. Geographical Sketches on the Western Country: Designed for Emigrants and Settlers: Being the Result of Extensive Researches and Remarks. Cincinnati: Looker, Reynolds and Co., Printers, 1819.Dana divided the United States into two mutually beneficial sections: an “east” committed to oceanic commerce and a “west” committed to agricultural production.
John Melish. The Traveller’s Directory through the United States; Containing a Description of All the Principal Roads Through the United States, with Copious Remarks on the Rivers, and Other Objects. New-York: Published by the Author, 1825.Melish saw ambitious new roads under construction from St. Louis to the distant west of the United States as bothered by “Spanish possessions” and “Indian country.”
Calvin Colton. Manual for Emigrants to America. London: F. Westley and A.H. Davis, 1832.Colton marketed the “most inviting Parts of the Mississippi Valley” and the “probable Destiny of the United States” to Britons considering emigrating to the United States.
Samuel G. Goodrich. Peter Parley’s Universal History, on the Basis of Geography. Boston: American Stationers’ Company; John B. Russell, 1837.Goodrich’s book blithely divided the world into four states: the savage, the barbarous, the merely civilized, and “those who are in the highest state of civilization.”
Charles A. Goodrich. The Universal Traveller: Designed to Introduce Readers at Home to an Acquaintance with the Arts, Customs, and Manners of the Principal Modern Nations on the Globe. Hartford: G. Robins, 1843.Catering to the armchair traveler, Goodrich proclaimed that reading about the world secondhand “will make you more satisfied than ever with your own country.”
S. Augustus Mitchell. A System of Modern Geography, Comprising a Description of the Present State of the World and its Five Great Divisions: America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceanica.... Philadelphia: Thomas, Cowperthwait and Co., 1844.Mitchell parsed the world into five states: savage, barbarous, half-civilized, civilized, and enlightened, restricting the latter only to five countries, including the United States.
Samuel G. Goodrich. A Pictorial History of America; Embracing both the Northern and Southern Portions of the New World. Hartford: House and Brown, 1847.Writing the history of the Western Hemisphere, Goodrich saw “aborigines” as “receding and disappearing before the rapid progress of civilization” uniquely so in the United States.
S. Augustus Mitchell. A General View of the World, Comprising a Physical, Political, and Statistical Account of its Grand Divisions, America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceanica, with their Empires, Kingdoms, Republics, Principalities, &c.... Philadelphia: Published by Thomas, Cowperthwait and Co., for James A. Bill, 1847.Temporarily deferring to Europe, Mitchell anticipated a future in which the Western Hemisphere would come to surpass “the greatest monarchies of the Old World.”
J. C. Nott and George R. Gliddon. Types of Mankind: or, Ethnological Researches, Based Upon the Ancient Monuments, Paintings, Sculptures, and Crania of Races, and upon their Natural, Geographical, Philosophical, and Biblical History.... Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co.; London: Trubner and Co., 1854.Nott and Gliddon trumpeted the “Caucasian races” for alone being able to travel to and colonize “all parts of the globe.”
Frederick Saunders. A Voice to America; or, The Model Republic, its Glory, or its Fall: with a Review of The Causes of the Decline and failure of the Republics of South America, Mexico, and of the Old World; Applied to the Present Crisis in the United States. New York: Edward Walker, 1855.Saunders predicted a sanguine future: “Throned between two oceans, we shall control the mercantile exchanges of the world, and with them the civilization and the welfare of mankind.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe. First Geography for Children. Boston: Phillips, Sampson and Co., 1855.Famous for her condemnation of American slavery in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe in this schoolbook expressed racist contempt for non-white peoples around the world.
Samuel G. Goodrich. A History of All Nations, from the Earliest Periods to the Present Time; or, Universal History: in which the History of Every Nation, Ancient and Modern, is Separately Given. New York and Auburn: Miller, Orton and Mulligan, 1856.Like many geography authors of the day, Goodrich associated an “American” race with Native Americans, while affiliating “Americans” with a “Caucasian” race.
John P. Sanderson. Republican Landmarks. The Views and Opinions of American Statesmen on Foreign Immigration. Being a Collection of Statistics of Population, Pauperism, Crime, etc. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott and Co., 1856.A firm nativist, Sanderson sought not only to restrict immigration into the United States, but also to forbid immigrants from holding political office.
Thomas R. Whitney. A Defence of the American Policy, as Opposed to the Encroachments of Foreign Influence, and Especially to the Interference of the Papacy in the Political Interests and Affairs of the United States. New York: De Witt and Davenport, 1856.Whitney’s intense nativism went so far as to reject the principle of equality sacred to Americans since the Declaration of Independence.