Atlantic Crossings

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==Summary==
==Summary==
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Atlantic Crossings is a significant work of social and intellectual history. Rodgers argues that, contrary to standard tropes about "American exceptionalism", between the 1870s and through the end of World War II, American Progressives were actively engaged in a trans-Atlantic dialogue with fellow progressives in Western Europe, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. The connections between idealists, reformers, and activists around the globe were numerous and the communication was certainly two-way. The narrative includes a chapter on young American college students having their horizons broadened in German universities, and another section on European visitors coming to America to admire public amenities like public parks, particularly Central Park in New York City.
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''Atlantic Crossings'' is a significant work of social and intellectual history. Rodgers argues that, contrary to standard tropes about "American exceptionalism", between the 1870s and through the end of World War II, American Progressives were actively engaged in a trans-Atlantic dialogue with fellow progressives in Western Europe, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. The connections between idealists, reformers, and activists around the globe were numerous and the communication was certainly two-way. The narrative includes a chapter on young American college students having their horizons broadened in German universities, and another section on European visitors coming to America to admire public amenities like public parks, particularly Central Park in New York City.
This book is richly detailed; Rodgers is fluent in multiple European languages which enabled him to extend his research beyond the English-speaking world and research French and German sources as well. The areas of research are equally far-ranging: the state of Progressive politics, urban renewal and city planning, economics, and social insurance are just some of the broad reform movements he considers.
This book is richly detailed; Rodgers is fluent in multiple European languages which enabled him to extend his research beyond the English-speaking world and research French and German sources as well. The areas of research are equally far-ranging: the state of Progressive politics, urban renewal and city planning, economics, and social insurance are just some of the broad reform movements he considers.
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==Commentary==
==Commentary==
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===Celeste Sharpe, Spring 2013===
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''Atlantic Crossings'' is a dense, thoroughly researched study of the Progressive Era that encompasses North America, Western Europe, and Australasia. Rodgers does an excellent job tracing the ways that ideas, people, and policy move around this world. Though his focus is on how America fits into the conversation with its three main influences--Britain, France, and Germany--he often pulls back to show how developments in places like Sweden or Australia are taking shape in relation to the larger powers.
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Structurally, he takes the first two chapters to establish a sense of what social policy and progressive politics meant in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, along with the currents for intellectual exchange. The next six chapters deal with specific policy issues--laissez-faire economics, the "self-owned city," city planning, social insurance, wartime collectivism, and cooperative farming--and more specific examinations of the different variations adopted in the US and elsewhere.
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Rodgers takes pains to show how the policies and reform actions taken (or not taken) were as much the result of timing and precedent as ideology. He chips away at the notion that the rhetoric of "American Exceptionalism" was the primary force in this period through numerous examples of similar and parallel development in Europe, and how ideology played into specific circumstances rather than acting as a blanket rationale. One example comes from the opposition to social insurance in Europe: that rhetoric closely matches the kinds of debate that occurred in Germany in the 1880s and Britain after 1918. Rodgers notes that America's laggard position gave it distinct advantages and disadvantages when it came to adopting new reforms or initiatives. The advantages were that options tended to be clearer, as the experimental work and cost had been undertaken already by others, which allows "laggards, in certain circumstances, to leapfrog over their competitors by cashing in on the advantages of delay" (265). The disadvantages were that "the territory of action may already have been preempted" (266) and the prime moment for action missed.

Revision as of 13:26, 31 January 2013

Daniel T. Rodgers. Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998. 634 pp. $35.00, ISBN 0-674-05131-9.

Summary

Atlantic Crossings is a significant work of social and intellectual history. Rodgers argues that, contrary to standard tropes about "American exceptionalism", between the 1870s and through the end of World War II, American Progressives were actively engaged in a trans-Atlantic dialogue with fellow progressives in Western Europe, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. The connections between idealists, reformers, and activists around the globe were numerous and the communication was certainly two-way. The narrative includes a chapter on young American college students having their horizons broadened in German universities, and another section on European visitors coming to America to admire public amenities like public parks, particularly Central Park in New York City.

This book is richly detailed; Rodgers is fluent in multiple European languages which enabled him to extend his research beyond the English-speaking world and research French and German sources as well. The areas of research are equally far-ranging: the state of Progressive politics, urban renewal and city planning, economics, and social insurance are just some of the broad reform movements he considers.

Rodgers is still forced to contend with the fact that, for the most part, Americans did not ultimately follow the same course that most other modern industrial democracies would in creating comprehensive, centralized social welfare policies and institutions. As much as he wants to refute "American exceptionalism", it is hard to avoid the implication that the concept is more than mere rhetoric.

However, Rodgers might very well counter that he is not arguing that America followed the same path as their Progressive allies on the other side of the globe. Rather, he is simply making the case that Americans were deeply invested in a cosmopolitan project of modernization and reform. To that extent, he has succeeded remarkably.

Commentary

Celeste Sharpe, Spring 2013

Atlantic Crossings is a dense, thoroughly researched study of the Progressive Era that encompasses North America, Western Europe, and Australasia. Rodgers does an excellent job tracing the ways that ideas, people, and policy move around this world. Though his focus is on how America fits into the conversation with its three main influences--Britain, France, and Germany--he often pulls back to show how developments in places like Sweden or Australia are taking shape in relation to the larger powers.

Structurally, he takes the first two chapters to establish a sense of what social policy and progressive politics meant in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, along with the currents for intellectual exchange. The next six chapters deal with specific policy issues--laissez-faire economics, the "self-owned city," city planning, social insurance, wartime collectivism, and cooperative farming--and more specific examinations of the different variations adopted in the US and elsewhere.

Rodgers takes pains to show how the policies and reform actions taken (or not taken) were as much the result of timing and precedent as ideology. He chips away at the notion that the rhetoric of "American Exceptionalism" was the primary force in this period through numerous examples of similar and parallel development in Europe, and how ideology played into specific circumstances rather than acting as a blanket rationale. One example comes from the opposition to social insurance in Europe: that rhetoric closely matches the kinds of debate that occurred in Germany in the 1880s and Britain after 1918. Rodgers notes that America's laggard position gave it distinct advantages and disadvantages when it came to adopting new reforms or initiatives. The advantages were that options tended to be clearer, as the experimental work and cost had been undertaken already by others, which allows "laggards, in certain circumstances, to leapfrog over their competitors by cashing in on the advantages of delay" (265). The disadvantages were that "the territory of action may already have been preempted" (266) and the prime moment for action missed.

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