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The Passport in America: The History of a Document 1st Edition

3.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199733422
ISBN-10: 0199733422
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Robertson accomplishes a surprising amount with a seemingly dusty subject in this far-reaching social history. From early discussions of a document authorizing travel to “civilized states,” along with the politics of determining who was civilized and who wasn’t, he points out the many ways in which passport law has stepped ahead of national and personal identities. He recalls the early difficulty in translating Chinese names (dismissed as “ill adapted for pronouncing and writing by the majority of Americans” in 1917) and the problem of how to establish accurate physical descriptions of individuals in the era before photography. Robertson clearly relishes such side issues, veering with great aplomb into the history of birth certificates and the debate over why women would need passports since they always traveled with their husbands. Ultimately, the passport serves as an umbrella sheltering many aspects of the cultural past. Illustrated with numerous examples, Robertson’s history of the significance of one small document starts slowly but builds steam and expands into a broad and relevant chronicle. --Colleen Mondor

Review


"Cleverly uses the history of the American passport as a means to plumb the meanings of identity and identification as the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth .Theoretically grounded and engagingly written it will appeal to scholars interested in the history of national border controls and the transnational movement of people, as well as those interested in questions surrounding the intersection of state power, citizenship, and modernity." --American Historical Review


"Robertson's superb book combines serious scholarship and an easily accessible narrative....It displays the great immigration themes in U.S. history--identity, sovereignty, membership, national security, privacy, federalism, bi-national communities, and the attempts of overwhelmed government officials to enforce the law--through the lens of the humble passport."--Donald Kerwin, International Migration Review


"Provocative..."--The New York Times


"Robertson accomplishes a surprising amount with a seemingly dusty subject in this far-reaching social history."--Booklist


"Robertson takes fascinating excursions into the history of currency, voting, immigration, tourism and even filing methods . . . The Passport in America is compelling reading."The Wilson Quarterly


"A skillful excavation of the historical foundations of this bureaucratic procedure." --Bookforum


"Making use of the mundane and innocuous passport, Robertson takes readers along an intriguing and exciting journey of recasting . . . An excellent narrative." --Choice


"Robertson deftly weaves together the numerous legal challenges, policy shifts, and human dramas that have shaped [the passport] ... engrossing." --Law and History Review


"In addition to providing a detailed history of the passport from the late eighteenth century to the mid-1930s, The Passport in America describes a parallel history, at least as interesting and important, of the idea of civil identity in an evolving bourgeois democracy. William W. Stowe, Journal of American History


"This fine book will serve as the standard history of the American passport, at least during its crucial formative period, for some time to come."--Journal of Social History


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (July 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199733422
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199733422
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.2 x 6.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,163,938 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By J. Tant TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 5, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Bought the Kindle version...publisher, thanks for supporting Kindle!

I'm still about halfway through this. It's a slow read and not a very sexy topic, but it's still interesting. For example, I hadn't known that even up until relatively recently, women didn't usually have individual passports. Instead there was a kind of family passport with a group photo (why would a respectable woman be traveling without her husband...?). Even the idea of a passport being evidence of identity is a fairly new concept.

Then there is some discussion of class, with the upper classes viewing the idea of proving oneself to be a citizen as insulting. How dare some government worker not accept the word of a gentleman?! Even the customs officials disputed the need for such a thing, fancying themselves experts at just *knowing* if a fellow was telling the truth or not.

All in all, it's an interesting story about how the passport has evolved in America. Four stars, would be more but as I said, the writing style makes it a slow read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Craig Robertson, a professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern, provides a comprehensive history of the passport in the United States, starting from its initial use in the late 18th century. The book is divided into two parts, on the assembly of the passport (including the document itself, the applicant's name, signature, physical description and, later, his photograph), and the use of the passport as its primary role changed, from a letter of introduction to foreign governments for travelers, to an essential form of identification in the early 20th century, particularly for immigrants wishing to travel to or establish residency in the US. I was interested to learn that married women did not routinely receive their own passports until the women's suffrage movement took place, as respectable women always traveled in the presence of their husbands, whose passport photograph included their wives and children; and that the upper and middle classes resented having to use passports as a form of identification, as many felt that this document was most appropriate to keep anarchists, non-white immigrants and other undesirables from entering the US and western European countries.

The book includes several interesting personal stories, including the one that opens the book about a Danish man who was encouraged to shave off his Kaiser Wilhelm mustache upon entering Germany, and then was denied entry to the US after his clean shaven face did not match his passport photo. However, I found most of the book to be a bit dry and academic, and there was almost no discussion or analysis about the history and use of the passport after the 1920s, which would have made this a more interesting book for me.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Half the pages are footnotes! This book is a dissertation on the history of the US passport, and in that sense the book is absolutely what it claims to be.

However, if you aren't really interested in how every Secretary of State handled passport applications thru the Second World War, you may find that the author exhausts the subject pretty early.
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