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Chapter 17 - New History for a New Earth

from Part III - Varieties of Apocalyptic Experience

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 December 2020

John Hay
Affiliation:
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
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Summary

Early national historians such as George Bancroft, William H. Prescott, and Francis Parkman were nominally concerned with a semisecular vision of historical Providence, narrating the history of the continent as if it were directed toward the progress and consecration of democratic liberty in the United States and across the hemisphere. However, they were haunted by visions that such futures were being destroyed before their eyes in sectional conflict, slave revolution, and imperial expansion. This chapter explores how the US historical imagination before the Civil War stood on a razor’s edge between the anticipation of an empire of liberty and the fear of complete national catastrophe. It argues that this either-or narrative structure of progress or apocalypse continues to inform nationalist visions of history, leading to reactionary calls against dissident politics and ever-increasing imperial security measures in the name of protecting the nation’s future.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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