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Book Review


John R. Chávez, Beyond Nations: Evolving Homelands in the North Atlantic World, 1400-2000. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Pp. xv + 254. Bibliography and Index. $26.99 (paper)


     Global trade networks, migration, and cultural exchanges in the context of imperialism and its aftermath are the centerpiece of much world history scholarship. John R. Chávez's Beyond Nations: Evolving Homelands in the North Atlantic World, 1400-2000 provides a fresh perspective on these processes by focusing on how they have affected local communities. Chávez is particularly interested in the development of ethnic identities and traces their survival through imperialism and changes in government structures over time, with the goal of understanding how to ensure a peaceful multicultural global society. Overall, Chávez's complex and multidimensional narrative analysis is an interesting contribution to studies of not only imperialism and nationalism, but also international politics, gender, economics, migration, and race.

     Beginning with the question of how people in the Atlantic World have understood their homelands over the last six centuries, Chávez examines a wide variety of evidence available in secondary sources and published primary sources. He is especially attentive to origin stories, archaeological and linguistic evidence, missionary accounts, and recent anthropological studies. Many of these sources indicate a common theme of identity tied to geography, whether the group continues to reside in its homeland or has migrated elsewhere. Chávez made a deliberate decision to draw his examples "from the geographical fringes to reveal more about the lesser known peoples and places on the edges of the mainstream" (xiv). Using the experiences of a relatively small number of groups (including the Micmacs, Tlaxcalans, Bretons, Temne, Tejanos, and Basques) throughout the book provides continuity in a text that spans a large area over a lengthy time period.

     As imperialism advanced, many ethnic communities were able to use competing imperial powers against each other to retain a substantial amount of self-determination. In some areas, for example, Native Americans were able to leverage imperial rivalries between the English, French, and Dutch for their own benefit. By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, however, it became increasingly difficult for regional ethnic communities to maintain their autonomy as nation-states were consolidated and imperialistic nationalism sought to override regional identities. Decolonization in the twentieth century often failed to protect minority groups from continuing cultural destruction.

     Ultimately, the key to maintaining the integrity of regional identities and peaceful coexistence, Chávez argues, is government structures that support the survival of language and culture. He asserts that cooperative federalist government structures are best because they "permit the individual to sustain and balance varying ethnic, geographic, political, and economic loyalties" (13). In the final section of Beyond Nations, he considers international organizations and economic agreements, such as the United Nations, the European Union, and NAFTA, that "[merge] the interests and loyalties of nations, homelands, and individuals, while minimizing conflict." (213-214). Some of these are less successful than others, particularly when there is an imbalance of power between members of the federation. In the end, Chávez has a beautiful vision of a peaceful global community governed by mutual respect and cooperation. One can only hope that it will come to be.

Lisa M. Edwards teaches Latin American and world history at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.


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