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Dear members and friends of Historians Against the War,

"Empire" has recently become a popular subject of historical research and under the Bush administration it re-emerged in political discourse. The flood of books on the subject has become overwhelming. Both supporters and opponents of American foreign policy in general and military policy in particular use the term "empire" to describe U.S. hegemony in its various forms. Nonetheless, many Americans are very resistant to thinking of the United States in terms of empire. Non-specialists, even among the interested public, often lack information about how historical empires actually worked and in which ways historians and political scientists put the United States into the historical context of past empires. They consider an empire to be an entity which exercises direct and usually strict territorial control over other (foreign) areas. This misunderstanding is illustrated and fuelled by maps of world history that show broad swaths of red for the British Empire – implying absolute British control – and the contrast with current maps which show the patchwork of states today, implying complete sovereignty and freedom from foreign control.

We propose a project that will bridge the gap between a scholarly understanding of empires in history and the applicability of the term to the United States on the one hand and the popular resistance to interpreting the U.S. in terms of empire on the other hand. We would like to create an annotated bibliography of recent and/or important scholarship on the United States and the issue of empire. The brief book discussions/articles would address the following issues:

  • the author's understanding of the term "empire"
  • concrete forms of imperialism discussed or addressed
  • the use or abuse of direct or implied historical analogies with past empires
  • time period considered (all of U.S. history, only 1898 to the present, current or recent policy only, only since WW2, etc.)
  • whether they make policy recommendations, implicitly or explicitly
  • which assumptions the work makes about the nature and extent of U.S. interests

We will present a working list of titles of books we would like reviewed on these terms, but we'll start by opening the review process to any titles of interest to HAW members. A worksheet/form that reviewers would fill out to guide their reviews is already available. We do not seek to include only books that oppose U.S. policy. Books that discuss the issue and historically argue that the U.S. is not an empire should also be considered. The main criterion is the use of "empire" as a theme, category, approach or model, not a position – for or against – U.S. policy. While this kind of historiography is often politicized, we strive to include monographs which are generally scholarly and not polemical. The reviews will eventually be published at the HAW webpage and perhaps as a pamphlet or short book.

We need authors.  If you would like to review a book about this theme for the publication, please get in touch with Mark Hatlie (mark@hatlie.de, http://www.hatlie.de).