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Title: Revolutions without Borders: The Call to ...
Publisher: Yale University Press
Book Condition: New
About this title
A sweeping exploration of revolutionary ideas that traveled the Atlantic in the late eighteenth century
Nation-based histories cannot do justice to the rowdy, radical interchange of ideas around the Atlantic world during the tumultuous years from 1776 to 1804. National borders were powerless to restrict the flow of enticing new visions of human rights and universal freedom. This expansive history explores how the revolutionary ideas that spurred the American and French revolutions reverberated far and wide, connecting European, North American, African, and Caribbean peoples more closely than ever before.
Historian Janet Polasky focuses on the eighteenth-century travelers who spread new notions of liberty and equality. It was an age of itinerant revolutionaries, she shows, who ignored borders and found allies with whom to imagine a borderless world. As paths crossed, ideas entangled. The author investigates these ideas and how they were disseminated long before the days of instant communications and social media or even an international postal system. Polasky analyzes the paper records—books, broadsides, journals, newspapers, novels, letters, and more—to follow the far-reaching trails of revolutionary zeal. What emerges clearly from rich historic records is that the dream of liberty among America’s founders was part of a much larger picture. It was a dream embraced throughout the far-flung regions of the Atlantic world.
What was the inspiration for your book?
As an undergraduate studying in London, I discovered a misfiled letter from Thomas Paine in the Public Records Office. That letter introduced me to unlikely alliances among London mechanics, Parisian lawyers, and abolitionists from Philadelphia—eighteenth-century revolutionaries I had never met before. Ever since that first encounter in the archives, I have been discovering Paine’s itinerant friends, most of whom would have agreed with him that “a share in two revolutions was living to some purpose.”
Who are some of those interesting friends?
Thomas Jefferson’s next-door neighbor was one. A Tuscan merchant who enthusiastically adopted the American revolutionary cause as his own, Filippo Mazzei later served as the Polish king’s emissary in revolutionary Paris. Or Anna Falconbridge, whose journal describes the settlement of black loyalists from America in Sierra Leone—to her mind, “a premature, hare-brained, and ill-digested scheme.” And dozens of others who connected with one another in various ways—sometimes aboard ship, sometimes in salons and cafés, and often through notes scrawled in pamphlets, where encounters on the page transformed readers into revolutionaries.
What important insights did you uncover in your research?
The interconnections of today’s global society are inescapable. So why should we imagine that the founding fathers who dreamed of liberty lived in isolation? Revolution loomed as an ever-present possibility over four continents at the end of the eighteenth century, two centuries before the Arab Spring. The rich variety of revolutionary possibility in the past reminds us that revolutions readily traverse national borders, and that they lead in a multitude of different and often unexpected directions.
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