The American Civil War and the Paris Commune of 1871, Philip Katz argues, were part of the broader sweep of transatlantic development in the mid-nineteenth century--an age of democratic civil wars. Katz shows how American political culture in the period that followed the Paris Commune was shaped by that event.
The telegraph, the new Atlantic cable, and the news-gathering experience gained in the Civil War transformed the Paris Commune into an American national event. News from Europe arrived in fragments, however, and was rarely cohesive and often contradictory. Americans were forced to assimilate the foreign events into familiar domestic patterns, most notably the Civil War. Two ways of Americanizing the Commune emerged: descriptive (recasting events in American terms in order to better understand them) and predictive (preoccupation with whether Parisian unrest might reproduce itself in the United States).
By 1877, the Commune became a symbol for the domestic labor unrest that culminated in the Great Railroad Strike of that year. As more powerful local models of social unrest emerged, however, the Commune slowly disappeared as an active force in American culture.
Katz's book is highly interesting for many reasons. For one, it says quite a lot that is wholly new about both French and American political history. The stories of Empress Eugénie's dentist, Ambassador Washburne's memoirs, and Cluseret's stay in America are well known, but before I read this book, I did not realize how extensive and sustained was the involvement of Americans in the Paris Commune. I was intrigued also by Professor Katz's presentation of American reactions to French events: because the Commune was both an anti-centralist statement and a revolutionary movement, it elicited dramatically contradictory responses; and it is startling to learn that some ex-Confederates had positive things to say about a social movement whose libertarian relevance to the cause of their worst enemies was also obvious. This is an informative book, well and clearly written.
Katz, who has done a careful and extremely detailed study of the Americanization of the meanings of the Commune, is to be applauded for his originality; analyzing the interpolation of overseas events into American politics is a relatively unexplored and worthwhile avenue Katz shows how complex events are sorted out over time, how verbal brickbats are constructed, and how Americans are eternally reluctant to see class war as internal to their own exceptionalist history.
From Appomattox To Montmartre is well worth reading. It takes a significant step towards de-exceptionalizing U. S. history, both by situating it in an international context and by addressing just how exceptional nineteenth-century Americans (especially bourgeois Americans) considered themselves.
Katz's idea-that American interpretations of the Commune reflected confusion about the nation's postwar national role-is exciting From Appomattox to Montmartre is a welcome resurrection of the nineteenth- century American obsession with the Paris Commune.
What Katz has done is quite remarkable...His study surpasses previous work by the breadth and depth of his research...He displays considerable analytical powers in evaluating his materials, demonstrating how diverse groups responded to what he terms 'an ideological jumble.' ...The most substantial study yet written on the Paris Commune and the United States...Katz has made a contribution to social, cultural, and intellectual history.
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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