National History and the World of Nations

Capital, State, and the Rhetoric of History in Japan, France, and the United States

National History and the World of Nations

Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society

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Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: Published: January 2009

Asian Studies > East Asia, History > World History, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Theory

Focusing on Japan, France, and the United States, Christopher L. Hill reveals how the writing of national history in the late nineteenth century made the reshaping of the world by capitalism and the nation-state seem natural and inevitable. The three countries, occupying widely different positions in the world, faced similar ideological challenges stemming from the rapidly changing geopolitical order and from domestic political upheavals: the Meiji Restoration in Japan, the Civil War in the United States, and the establishment of the Third Republic in France. Through analysis that is both comparative and transnational, Hill shows that the representations of national history that emerged in response to these changes reflected rhetorical and narrative strategies shared across the globe.

Delving into narrative histories, prose fiction, and social philosophy, Hill analyzes the rhetoric, narrative form, and intellectual genealogy of late-nineteenth-century texts that contributed to the creation of national history in each of the three countries. He discusses the global political economy of the era, the positions of the three countries in it, and the reasons that arguments about history loomed large in debates on political, economic, and social problems. Examining how the writing of national histories in the three countries addressed political transformations and the place of the nation in the world, Hill illuminates the ideological labor national history performed. Its production not only naturalized the division of the world by systems of states and markets, but also asserted the inevitability of the nationalization of human community; displaced dissent to pre-modern, pre-national pasts; and presented the subject’s acceptance of a national identity as an unavoidable part of the passage from youth to adulthood.


“[T]hat the writings of liberals in Japan, the United States, and France in the late nineteenth century resorted to common epistemological strategies—despite substantial differences in context and expression—is significant, and the manner in which this is demonstrated is impressive. This book provides a hefty contribution to recent discussions of nationalism and history.” — Genzo Yamamoto, History: Reviews of New Books

“Christopher Hill’s book on historical writing in the three languages of late nineteenth-century Japan, France, and the United States is thus an exceptional study that shows how careful, transnational analysis can generate new insights into long-debated subjects such as the history of nationalism. . . . [H]is well-argued transnational analysis is filled with provocative insights into the history of modern nationalisms.” — Lloyd Kramer, Pacific Historical Review

“Hill has written a compellingly brilliant and complex book that, above all else, recalls for use the often forgotten fact that the very conventions of historical practice, now firmly institutionalized in countless ways, and our historical consciousness derive from the desire of nations to claim the authority of their irreducible identity before the specific political and economic conjunctures that effectively facilitated and shaped their formations as spatial and temporal units of operation.” — Harry Harootunian, History and Theory

“The author dazzles his readers with a plethora of comparative insights, and this book is exemplary not only in its analytical rigour and interpretrative breadth but also in its treatment of very different texts that are rarely analysed together. . . . Hill’s book represents overall a major achievement in providing us with a deeper understanding of how national histories operated under conditions of a universal modernity in the last third of the nineteenth century.” — Stefan Berger, Nations and Nationalism

“This is an extraordinary book. . . . Like other fine books, this one lends itself to being read in various ways by various disciplines. . . . In general, Hill does an impressive job of bridging the divide between literature and history. . . . This is a path-breaking work with interdisciplinary and global reach.” — Sheldon Garon, Journal of Japanese Studies

National History and the World of Nations is an important book. I know few in globalization studies who have managed to articulate so complex and clear a framework for the analysis of the possible global determinants of specific cultures’ narrative texts. This book will be read as much for its methodological interest as for its holdings about nationalism.” — Frederick Buell, author of National Culture and the New Global System

National History and the World of Nations is one of the most exciting books I have read for some time.” — Patrice Higonnet, author of Sister Republics: The Origins of French and American Republicanism

“This is a learned and sophisticated meditation on the ways in which comparable practices of national history writing emerged in three locations tied together by global capitalism and the formation of a worldwide system of nation-states. Christopher L. Hill demonstrates why we must reject national exceptionalisms even as he unveils the particularities of each of the nations he studies with rare insight and linguistic skill. This is an important study that should be read far beyond the parochial boundaries of area studies formations.” — Takashi Fujitani, author of Splendid Monarchy: Power and Pageantry in Modern Japan

“This is a remarkably accomplished, broad-ranging, and provocative study that makes important claims about three of the key societies of modernity. It will energize an important theoretical and empirical debate about fundamental questions in a—still further—globalizing world.” — Richard Terdiman, author of Present Past: Modernity and the Memory Crisis


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Christopher L. Hill is Associate Professor of Japanese Literature at Yale University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xv

1. National History and the Shape of the Nineteenth-Century World 1

Part I. Spaces of History

2. Liberal Social Imaginaries and the Interiority of History 47

3. The Nationality of Expansion 82

4. Decline, Renewal, and the Rhetoric of Will 119

Part II. Times of Crisis

5. The Rupture of Meiji and the New Japan 155

6. Americanization and Historical Consciousness 194

7. French Revolution, Third Republic 233

Conclusion: National History and Other Worlds 269

Notes 283

Bibliography 309

Index 329
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Winner, Yale University Samuel and Ronnie Heyman Prize for Outstanding Scholarly Publication or Research

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4316-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4298-4
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