How to Hide an Empire: The Story of the Greater United States

MON, OCT 26, 2020

Look at a map of the United States and you’ll see the familiar cluster of states in North America, plus Hawai’i and Alaska in boxes. But what about Puerto Rico? What about American Samoa? The country has held overseas territory–lands containing millions of U.S. nationals–for the bulk of its history. They don’t appear often in textbooks, but the outposts and colonies of the United States have been central to its history.

Boston Public Library President David Leonard talks with Daniel Immerwahr to explore what U.S. history would look like if it weren’t just the history of the continental states but of all U.S. land: the Greater United States.

This conversation at the Boston Public Library, with the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library, is part of the esteemed Lowell Lecture Series. The event is free to the public.

+ BIO: Garrett Dash Nelson

Garrett is the Curator of Maps and Director of Geographic Scholarship at the Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library. He is interested in the processes through which human and nonhuman systems cohere together into distinct geographic entities called “places.” Very broadly, this means that I’m curious about how we construct and identify discrete geographic objects like neighborhoods, cities, districts, and regions, and then use these objects as meaningful categories in social and political life.

He has studied this question from several different perspectives, ranging from the history of urban and regional planning to big-data analyses of economically-integrated megaregions. Because the tension between unity and differentiation works itself out in terms of both ideological and empirical arguments about inclusion and exclusion, he is interested in both how places come to be seen as provisionally whole, as well as what the consequences are of such boundary-drawing decisions. He strongly believes in the integrative impulse in geography and in the necessity of using techniques drawn from fields as diverse as spatial analysis, cartography, ethnography, social theory, and visual studies.

+ BIO: Daniel Immerwahr

Daniel Immerwahr is an associate professor at Northwestern University, specializing in twentieth-century U.S. history within a global context. His first book, Thinking Small (Harvard, 2015), offers a critical account of grassroots development campaigns launched by the United States at home and abroad. It won the Merle Curti Award in Intellectual History from the Organization of American Historians and the Society for U.S. Intellectual History’s annual book award. His second book, How to Hide an Empire (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019), tells the history of the United States with its overseas territory included in the story. That book was a national bestseller and a New York Times critic’s choice for one of the best books of 2019. Immerwahr’s writings have appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, the Washington Post, The New Republic, The Nation, Dissent, Jacobin, and Slate, among other places.

+ BIO: David Leonard

David Leonard, President of the Boston Public Library, leads the 170-year old institution, one of Boston’s great educational, cultural and civic treasures. David began working at the BPL in 2009, bringing a wealth of experience from the technology, management and consulting fields. Appointed president by the Library’s Board of Trustees and Mayor Martin J. Walsh in June 2016, David’s focus is on developing the BPL as a twenty first century institution providing dynamic library experiences to the residents of Boston, of Massachusetts and beyond.

Prior to his appointment as President, David served as Interim President for one year. During that time he focused on the completion of the $78 million renovation of the Central Library in Copley Square, which opened in July 2016, as well as a significant number of branch and collections management improvement projects, enhancing access and the customer experience; collaborating with city departments and with local cultural institutions; and supporting Mayor Walsh’s arts and culture vision. During his time at the Boston Public Library David has also served as Director of Administration & Technology, acting Director of Administration & Finance, acting Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Technology Officer. He led the Library’s capital improvement project for the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, worked to modernize the library’s technology infrastructure - including the migration to the new Integrated Library System, and deployment of new Pay-for-Print Systems system wide - and oversaw master planning and design for the renovation of the Central Library in Copley Square.

David initially pursued an academic career, transitioned to the non-profit sector, and then spent ten years in the private IT consulting world in roles that spanned business development, management, and technology consulting, working on both strategic and tactical projects and services. David is currently enrolled in a PhD program in Library Information Science at Simmons College. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy and Mathematics and a Master’s Degree in Philosophy from the University College Dublin. Photo Credit: Boston Public Library

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