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Unbecoming British: How Revolutionary America Became a Postcolonial Nation Hardcover – November 3, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 10.4.2011 edition (November 3, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195393422
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195393422
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #795,900 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Novel and engagingELIt emphasizes the ambivalent relationship of Americans toward Britain and their continued dependence upon Britain. Unbecoming British is written without jargon, making it very suitable both for class adoption and interested lay readers." --Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy, American Historical Review

"Yokota's far-reaching reconsideration of the raw materials Americans proffered global markets, including the knowledge economy, offers a fresh perspective that should alter the questions authors in her wake ask about transatlantic resonance and implications of objects in their own fields of vision." --William and Mary Quarterly

"Unbecoming British is an excellent addition to the important research on collective American identity. In this interdisciplinary transatlantic study, Kariann Akemi Yokota carefully examines how Americans transformed from a colonial British identity to an independent American identity." --Journal of American History

"In her extensively researched and well-written book that will inspire, inform, and even entertain scholars across disciplines, Yokota breaks new ground by applying perspectives derived from postcolonial thought. Highly recommended." --CHOICE

"An important and sensitive study of the efforts of postcolonial Americans in the decades immediately following independence to become a cultivated and respectable nation. Kariann Yokota imaginatively uses maps, geographies, botanical studies, British consumer goods, and other particulars to document the arduous struggles of a people who so recently thought of themselves as British to become truly independent. It's an extraordinary work of cultural history."-Gordon S. Wood, author of Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815

"This entrancing meditation on post-Revolutionary America's pursuit of cultural independence examines the perplexities of cutting loose from the nation that for two centuries had set the standards of civilization for the colonies. Unbecoming British traces this struggle through published geographies, imports of genteel goods, the China trade, natural history and medicine, and the creation of racial identity. There is no more far-reaching or penetrating survey of post-colonial American nationalism than this."-Richard Bushman, author of The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities

"Convincing, thought-provoking, and tremendously original, Unbecoming British captures exquisitely the ambivalence of the post-revolutionary United States. An exquisite book-a landmark work that defines an area of inquiry, and even a cultural formation, that was right under our noses if only we had noticed. It does what the best works of cultural history do best: suddenly so many episodes, persons, artifacts, and expressions seem more interesting, and comprehensible."-David Waldstreicher, Temple University

"Remarkably learned across disciplines and continents, this boldly argued study lets us see the post-revolutionary United States anew. Struggling to make and have things the world would not ridicule, and seeking to purchase civilization even during moments of nationalist fervor, the Founding Fathers shopped for approval in China, Scotland, France, Germany, and, with considerable pathos, in London. Yokota delivers brilliantly on the promises of transnational history."-David Roediger, How Race Survived U.S. History

"Unbecoming British is an excellent addition to the important research on collective American identity." Journal of American History

About the Author

Kariann Akemi Yokota is Assistant Professor of American Studies and History at Yale University.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Anders Gronstedt on December 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating and entertaining must-read for anyone interested in American revolutionary history. Yokota revises the official version of the clean break with Great Britain. For all the independence fervor, Yokota argues that America remained culturally and commercially in the British backwater for decades. American imported products and art from Great Britain and any serious craftsman or doctor went to Europe for training and study. This dependence on the old mother country sparked an Anglophobic anxiety that can been evidenced to this day.

The chapter about Chinese trade is not just insightful, but at times laugh-out-funny. One of the first thing American's did after winning independence was to send trade ships to China, because the British didn't allow them to trade with China during the colonial years. Yokota tells the fascinating tales of how American traders at Canton were mistaken for British, they all spoke English, had the same names, and they even smell the same! (As a Swedish immigrant to the U.S. I found myself nodding in agreement, the notion of being lumped together with Norwegians as a "Scandinavian" or, worse, with Italians and Germans as a "European" was a shocking experience, we don't realize how much we are the same until we view ourselves from an outside perspective.) This surely put a dent on the view of the American exceptionalism. Yokota even traces the white supremacism in America to the prevailing British attitudes.

The entire book draws on fascinating non-textual sources, including porcelain, architecture, maps, consumer goods, cartoons and paintings to show the link between American and British culture and mindset. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in how we shaped our American culture.
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful By fanofhistory on July 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The thesis--that the U.S. in the early days behaved and was treated very much as a postcolonial country is innovative and interesting. The execution of supporting it is dry, at time tedious, and long-winded. I completely buy the author's point, and the choice of some of the evidence--science manuals, maps--to show how America was secondary to a Euro-centered world is intriguing and persuasive. This is just not an easy or engaging book to read, and think the author could have done much more to make it so. As it is, this is a solid academic work accessible to a small audience of professionals interested in the cultural history of the U.S. Unfortunately, what will probably happen next is some hack will take the idea and write a more engaging book for a wider audience and take the credit.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By CEM on February 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found this book very interesting having lived in the UK and Asia. I agree with one of the other
reviewers about trading with China. I could see how
difficult it would have been for Americans to trade with them not understanding the Chinese culture.
I also enjoyed the part of the Sandhill cranes. Living in Florida we see them in our our backyard all the time.
The author has done an amazing job showing us how the Founding Fathers tried to develop our American culture with only the knowledge from the Colonists and Europe.
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