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Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876-1917 [Paperback]

Matthew Frye Jacobson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 16, 2001 0809016281 978-0809016280 1st
How a new American identity was forged by immigration and expansion a century ago.

In Barbarian Virtues, Matthew Frye Jacobson offers a keenly argued and persuasive history of the close relationship between immigration and America's newly expansionist ambitions at the turn of the twentieth century. Jacobson draws upon political documents, novels, travelogues, academic treatises, and art as he recasts American political life. In so doing, he shows how today's attitudes about "Americanism" -- from Border Watch to the Gulf War -- were set in this crucial period, when the dynamics of industrialization rapidly accelerated the rate at which Americans were coming in contact with foreign peoples.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A sense of moral outrage simmers throughout Barbarian Virtues, an outrage that tacitly informs Jacobson's exploration of U.S. attitudes toward immigration and foreign policy (which he sees as two sides of the same coin) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but which is kept from boiling over until the last page. There, Jacobson concludes: "Despite some opposition, the United States consciously chose imperial power along with the antidemocratic baggage and even the bloodshed that entailed; and many Americans liked it." This is not really news. But Jacobson, a professor of American Studies at Yale and author of Whiteness of a Different Color, does have an interesting thesis: at a time when America depended on nonwhite foreigners as both reliable consumers of American products abroad and industrious workers in the U.S., it also reviled them as "primitives" in need of civilization and as potential threats to the national order. The strength of his book is the wealth of evidence it provides; referring to a wide range of documentation--from journalism to literature, political rhetoric to pseudo-scientific studies, Tarzan to Teddy Roosevelt--Jacobson explores every conceivable nuance of his thesis. He might have written a book with far greater resonance, however, had he devoted more than a few pages to sketching out how his thesis also applies to America today. Still, Jacobson succeeds in presenting an analysis of a crucial period in the development of American identity as forged in the simultaneous "crucible of immigration" at home and "empire-building" abroad. 24 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Though the growth and prosperity of the United States was made possible by the labor of immigrants and the availability of external markets, foreigners have often been viewed by Americans with ambivalence. In this study, Jacobson (American studies, Yale), the author of Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (LJ 11/1/98) and other works exploring race and the immigrant experience, examines complex political and social views during a period of explosive immigration and overseas expansion. By considering a wide variety of contemporary sources such as newspapers, novels, academic treatises, and political writings, he discovers attitudes that offer striking similarities to those still voiced by politicians and political action groups in the latter part of the 20th century. Based upon a wide variety of primary and secondary sources, this readable and thoughtful work is recommended for large academic libraries.
-Theresa McDevitt, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; 1st edition (April 16, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809016281
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809016280
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #590,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gets it right November 16, 2006
As an historian who teaches about the Progressive Era, i've been waiting for a book like this for years. It's simply the best book written on America's peculiar fascination with race and the obsession with defining a hierarchy of races in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There has certainly been enough attention paid to Spencer et al and the progression of thought on how intellectuals confronted the problem of race in the late 19th century, but no book has ever treated the subject with such acumen. Jacobson joins David Roediger as the preeminent writers on America's struggle to reconcile it's claim to being the world's melting pot with the reality of it's ongoing propensity to relegate "savages" and lesser races/ethnicities to the margins of society.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary October 18, 2000
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an extraordinary book. It traces the intersecting lines of
the American imperial drive for markets during this period, with the
push for immigration as a source of cheap labor. Interwoven with both
policies was an unremitting ethnocentrism and racism. This book
explains the relationship between these factors, and how they helped
shaped American nationalism and consciousness during the period. One
can also recognize the roots of recent American history in this
earlier period.... The book is brimming with startling and
thought-provoking information. Even one familiar with this period of
American history will find much that is new. The quotations in the
book are worth the price alone: almost every page contains a quotation
to make the jaw drop! This book is exceptionally well written, and
extremely fascinating. It's one of the rare books that had me
grabbing my friends and urging them to read it!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"At its core 'civilization' was an economic concept" (p. 50). So shows Jacobson, in his wonderful book, _Barbarian Virtues_.
Vile racial hatreds define these hegemonic notions of "civilization." Jacobson's extensive research shows persistent and everyday racism operating in the daily discourse of American power. Presidents McKinley and (Teddy) Roosevelt, as well as major newspapers and magazines, spew a stream of racism, and show it as a basic part of elite common sense at the time.
I want to second the reviewer from Durham, who found this book short on Blackness. (Jacobson's excellent _Whiteness of a Different Color_ helps somewhat.) One might add that this book only skims over the important experience of the violent conquest of the West and the Indians, in shaping "civilization" and "savage" during these years. (Drinnon's _Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire Building is a larger and longer contribution in this regard.)
The book could be faulted for lingering on the Tarzan novels, for example, when more pressing political issues ruled the day. And I was hungry for a more sustained discussion of the colonization of the Philippines.
But Jacobson is in pursuit of "civilized" ideas in everyday American thought--that's his safari here and, as such, he pursues his subject with great talent. _Barbarian Virtues_ is a fast and gripping read. And it exposes what school textbooks and the mass media forget so well: America has a long and viscious history of racial hatred. When our politicians today speak of "civilization," we ought to remember its deep, poisonous roots, and its longstanding use to justify the most brutal exertions of capitalist greed.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Barbarian Virtues November 14, 2001
I'm proud to be an American. Over the last month and a half, these six words have echoed through our radios and televisions more times than the latest Brittney Spear's sexy single. Stores are selling out of stars and stripes and CNN's ratings have gone through the roof. The United States was attacked and its' people can do nothing but wave the flag and propagate blame on foreign people.
American citizens have been taught to recognize their culture, their government, and their people as the epitome of what an advanced society can achieve. The ethnocentrism found in America overwhelms its' people and creates the drive to dominate what they perceive to be foreign. The attempt towards domination has been a societal precedent since the beginning of time. As America industrialized around the beginning of the 19th century, the U.S. fought this battle for power with imperialistic vision, expanding global markets and immigration labor. Their power was achieved through the profits of capitalism, at the expense of global human equality.
The strength of the U.S. is rarely questioned by its' citizens. The American people try to ignore the selfish actions that U.S. government and businesses have used to gain and maintain themselves as the world's super power. It's hard to find material that looks deeply into this matter, searching for truth under layers of patriotic dust. Matthew Frye Jacobson disregards the notion of America's rightful warrant of power and exposes the truth that lays beneath the blanket of American ideals in his book Barbarian Virtues: The United States encounters foreign peoples at home and abroad 1876-1917.
Jacobson recognizes this time period as an important era of the establishment of American foreign policy and the domestic thoughts surrounding these events.
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