Revolutions without Borders


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The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World

Janet Polasky

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A sweeping exploration of revolutionary ideas that traveled the Atlantic in the late eighteenth century

Nation-based histories cannot do justice to the rowdy, radical interchange of ideas around the Atlantic world during the tumultuous years from 1776 to 1804. National borders were powerless to restrict the flow of enticing new visions of human rights and universal freedom. This expansive history explores how the revolutionary ideas that spurred the American and French revolutions reverberated far and wide, connecting European, North American, African, and Caribbean peoples more closely than ever before.
Historian Janet Polasky focuses on the eighteenth-century travelers who spread new notions of liberty and equality. It was an age of itinerant revolutionaries, she shows, who ignored borders and found allies with whom to imagine a borderless world. As paths crossed, ideas entangled. The author investigates these ideas and how they were disseminated long before the days of instant communications and social media or even an international postal system. Polasky analyzes the paper records—books, broadsides, journals, newspapers, novels, letters, and more—to follow the far-reaching trails of revolutionary zeal. What emerges clearly from rich historic records is that the dream of liberty among America’s founders was part of a much larger picture. It was a dream embraced throughout the far-flung regions of the Atlantic world.

Janet Polasky is Presidential Professor of History, University of New Hampshire.

“[A] bold and captivating book.”—Gavin Jacobson, The Guardian

“In this riveting and elegant book, Janet Polasky weaves together stories usually told separately about the many late eighteenth-century revolutions. This is an example to be followed in the new modes of transnational, Atlantic and global history.”—Lynn Hunt, author of Writing History in the Global Era

“Significantly enhancing how previous scholars perceived the Atlantic world as spawning related but clearly discrete revolutions, this elegantly written book instead evokes a movement whose participants ebb and flow across borders, connected through print and personal ties.”—Jack Censer, George Mason University

“A thrilling, moving, lyrical account of the Atlantic revolutions. Janet Polasky weaves together a remarkably diverse range of sources and narratives to reveal the cosmopolitan spirit of the revolutionary era and its role in the making of the nation-state.”—Malick W. Ghachem, author of The Old Regime and the Haitian Revolution

“A tour de force. Hugely informative and a joy to read, this is global history at its best.”—Richard Whatmore, author of Against War and Empire: Geneva, Britain, and France in the Eighteenth Century

“A thoughtful treatment that will make scholars think but appeal to the lay history lover as well.”—David Keymer, starred review, Library Journal

‘Janet Polasky charts the movement of the revolutionary ideas between 1776, with the American declaration of independence, and the 1804 Haitian revolution. It was not muskets, she says in this thrilling work of history, but pamphlets that ignited the revolutions that swept through America and Europe at the end of the 18th century.’—Jad Adams, the Independent.

‘...what sets Revolutions without Borders apart as a work of history is that Janet Polasky tears down walls… Instead of telling the usual heroic national story, she ranges wherever her wayfaring revolutionaries take her: to Paris and Washington, but also to Poland, Sierra Leone and the Caribbean. Instead of confining herself to the deeds of valiant men, she also gives the stage to women and slaves. The result is a spectacle that conveys the thrill of the enlightenment as as the delirium of revolution.’—The Economist.

Revolutions without Borders is a pathbreaking work. It brings supposedly marginal places and little-known figures, including women, into the center of a transnational narrative, demonstrating the intersection of sentimentality and politics on both sides of the Atlantic.”—Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Harvard University

“Janet Polasky’s Revolutions Without Borders does three things, and does them well. It identifies and traces the fortunes of the most zealous promoters of the ‘universal cry of liberty’ in the tumultuous twenty-eight years after 1776. It demonstrates the importance of understanding the failures, the dead ends, the unrealized dreams, as well as the successes of past eras. And it contributes to our knowledge of Atlantic history. . . a deeply researched book . . . a solid and imaginative work of scholarship.”—Bernard Bailyn, New York Review of Books

“[A] terrific contribution to the growing Atlantic revolutions literature. . . . [Polasky] concludes with a ringing tribute to the cosmopolitan, optimistic universalism that motivated her subjects.”—Thomas N. Ingersoll, Journal of American History

“Polasky’s riveting new book gives a quantum leap to the Atlantic imperative as it tracks the movements of people and texts across four continents.”—Susan S. Lanser, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Polasky’s book is undeniably a significant one that makes important contributions to the field. . . . [T]his riveting book adds a welcome and much-needed shift in ideological interpretations of revolutions in the Atlantic world.”—Zara Anishanslin, William and Mary Quarterly

Selected as a finalist for the 2016 George Washington Prize sponsored by George Washington's Mount Vernon, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and Washington College's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.
ISBN: 9780300208948
Publication Date: March 31, 2015
392 pages, 6-1/8 x 9-1/4
21 b/w illus.
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