When we first wrote this preface more than ten years ago, we struck a defensive tone that now seems inappropriate. We noted that academic critics had repeatedly denounced the history of American foreign relations as a backwater of scholarly inquiry. According to the familiar indictment, scholarship in the field was dominated by an ethnocentric point of view, mired in detail, short on synthesis, and desperately in need of new directions. The tale of woe reminded us of the Maine farmer who was asked if a recent hurricane had damaged his barn. “Don't know,” he answered. “Haven't found it yet.” Even then, however, historians of American foreign relations were developing fresh topics, mining foreign archives, and applying new methods. Some were trying to reconceptualize the field, while others were exploring new ways of thinking about older approaches. What was true in 1991, moreover, is still true today. Indeed, over the last decade the study of American foreign relations has enjoyed something of a renaissance, so much so that it has required a new edition, and major revision, of this volume.
As was the case with the first edition, the essays that follow are not intended to rehash old debates or rebut specific critics. Nor are they designed as historiographical surveys of the literature. Instead, they present some of the new topics of inquiry and some of the innovative analytical approaches that have emerged in recent years.