Today’s post is by Taylor Spence, a Lecturer in Monash University’s School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies and a Research Fellow with the Monash Indigenous Centre. Agricultural History will publish Dr. Spence’s next article, “The Canada Thistle: The Pestilence of North American Colonialisms and the Emergence of an Exceptionalist Identity, 1783-1839” (vol. 90, no.3), this fall. He lives in Melbourne and Brooklyn.
As a local representative of American Empire in Melbourne, Australia, and fifteen years after Michael McGerr and Ian Tyrrell’s spirited exchange in the pages of the American Historical Review, in which they wrestled with the potential gains and losses of a transnational American history, I thought it was time, in the spirit of Alistair Cooke, to send a “Letter to America,” checking in on the topic of American Exceptionalism and the viability of the transnational historical project in Oceania. Reporting from the front lines of the outward-pression of the exceptionalist frontier, I can report that it has only partially been successful: you in the U.S. have much more work to do if you hope to bring Australians to worship at the altar of Washington, Hamilton, and Lincoln. Perhaps a touring company of Hamilton would be in order? But if, in all seriousness, the continued popularity of American history courses at my Australian university and a similar lack of popularity for Australian history courses attests to the successful mystification of a certain segment of the population, the clear-eyed work of Oceanic Early Americanists demonstrates that the U.S. metanarrative is but grist for the mill. For decades, now, these scholars have produced an unabating stream of masterful transnational studies, which are methodically eroding the exceptionalist juggernaut. Continue reading