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Yale-UCL Americas Annual Lecture: Jay Gitlin on: American Manifest Destiny revisited: French traders and the transcolonial bourgeois frontier, 1763-1847

Publication date: Nov 25, 2013 4:40:56 PM

Start: Dec 10, 2013 6:30:00 PM
End: Dec 10, 2013 8:30:00 PM

Location: UCL-Institute of the Americas, 51 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PN

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In this inaugural Yale-UCL Americas Lecture Professor Jay Gitlin, a member of the History Department at Yale University, challenges traditional notions of American Manifest Destiny by examining what he calls the “transcolonial bourgeois frontier” and the interrelationship of French traders, American expansion and the porous borders of the Spanish and British Empires between 1763 and 1847.

The viceroy of New Spain, the 1st Count of Revilla Gigedo, described the French of North America as “esta nación tan ambulativa” (“this nation perpetually on the move”) in a letter written in 1752. He was referring to the constant intrusions of French traders from Illinois into Spanish Texas and New Mexico. Officials in a variety of North American places wondered what to do with French traders whose activities seemed to undermine imperial boundaries and trade regulations. In his book The Bourgeois Frontier (Yale University Press, 2009), Professor Gitlin argued that the focus in the United States on settler frontiers and “manifest destiny” has obscured the role of French traders from St. Louis who occupied “a cultural and social space of accommodation while pursuing an economic agenda of development and change,” in New Mexico and elsewhere, thus serving as intermediaries or an advance guard for political reform and regime change.

Expanding that argument to include such frontier cities and border towns as Havana, New Orleans and Detroit, he argues that we might discover a more pervasive and complex story of transcolonial relations and fluid identities that included emerging notions of Créolité and Americanidad. Traditional narratives that focus on the relationship between the metropole and the colony and end with independence movements and the struggles to create nations and nationalities may miss the intriguing, more “horizontal,” connections between colonies and the surprisingly cosmopolitan world of these border zones. The road to an understanding of our shared American past must travel through critical places such as New Orleans and Havana. Our histories must be written in French and Spanish, not just English.

Professor Jay Gitlin is Associate Director of the Howard R. Lamar Center for the Study of Frontiers and Borders at Yale University. He has taught history at Yale for over twenty-five years, including courses on the American West, Québec and Canada, suburbanization, and—with Sandy Isenstadt—the history of shopping. His book, The Bourgeois Frontier: French Towns, French Traders, and American Expansion received the 2010 Alf Andrew Heggoy Prize for the best book in French colonial history. He is also the co-editor and co-author of Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America’s Western Past (1992) and Frontier Cities: Encounters at the Crossroads of Empire (2012). He has been an on-camera commentator and consultant for several television shows on the History Channel and Connecticut Public Television, including Suburbia: The Good Life in Connecticut, nominated for a regional Emmy.

Further details about Professor Gitlin can be found at http://history.yale.edu/people/jay-gitlin

A reception will be available after the presentation and discussion. Attendance is free of charge but registration is required.