December 5: Tom Bender on American Exceptionalism

In the last seminar of the fall semester, Thomas Bender of New York University asked whether American history is truly exceptional when seen in global context. Following World War II, he said, the dominant narrative of U.S. history posited “American exceptionalism.” That assumption shaped historical scholarship and Cold War policy. More recently a neo-conservative belief in exceptionalism has affected international and domestic history. But a global perspective reveals that our history is not “exceptional,” only distinctive. Every major moment in American history–Revolution, Civil War, Progressivism, and the New Deal, for example–is part of a larger transnational history.

Thomas Bender is University Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History at New York University. His scholarly work has been focused on intellectual and cultural history; his most recent work, however, has been devoted to exploring the ways in which American history has been embedded in histories larger than itself, some of which are global in extent. His books include Rethinking American History in a Global Age (2002) and A Nation Among Nations: America’s Place in World History (2006).

A webcast of Bender’s seminar is available at: American Exceptionalism in Global Perspective.

The Washington History seminar is a joint venture of the National History Center and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. As always, it takes place at the Wilson Center in the Ronald Reagan Building, 13th and Pennsylvania, NW, in downtown Washington, DC (Federal Triangle Metro stop).  It is supported by a gift from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. Reservations are requested because of limited seating: