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Path of Empire: Panama and the California Gold Rush - The United States in the World (Paperback)
  • Path of Empire: Panama and the California Gold Rush - The United States in the World (Paperback)

Path of Empire: Panama and the California Gold Rush - The United States in the World (Paperback)

Paperback 264 Pages / Published: 12/03/2009
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Most people in the United States have forgotten that tens of thousands of U.S. citizens migrated westward to California by way of Panama during the California Gold Rush. Decades before the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914, this slender spit of land abruptly became the linchpin of the fastest route between New York City and San Francisco-a route that combined travel by ship to the east coast of Panama, an overland crossing to Panama City, and a final voyage by ship to California.

In Path of Empire, Aims McGuinness presents a novel understanding of the intertwined histories of the California Gold Rush, the course of U.S. empire, and anti-imperialist politics in Latin America. Between 1848 and 1856, Panama saw the building, by a U.S. company, of the first transcontinental railroad in world history, the final abolition of slavery, the establishment of universal manhood suffrage, the foundation of an autonomous Panamanian state, and the first of what would become a long list of military interventions by the United States.

Using documents found in Panamanian, Colombian, and U.S. archives, McGuinness reveals how U.S. imperial projects in Panama were integral to developments in California and the larger process of U.S. continental expansion. Path of Empire offers a model for the new transnational history by unbinding the gold rush from the confines of U.S. history as traditionally told and narrating that event as the history of Panama, a small place of global importance in the mid-1800s.

Publisher: Cornell University Press
ISBN: 9780801475382
Number of pages: 264
Weight: 397 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 5 mm


"Drawing upon research in Panama, Colombia, and the United States, McGuinness's fine study Path of Empire not only provides new perspectives on U.S. expansion but explores events whose broader importance within Latin American history is often overlooked. Path of Empire is an innovative study of a largely unexamined topic. By drawing upon Panamanian sources and narratives, McGuinness places Panama at the center of a crucial episode in global history, providing a fresh perspective on Latin America's encounter with U.S. empire. This is an original and provocative book, and McGuinness's recounting of his travails in Panama's National Archive is alone worth the price. Path of Empire will appeal to scholars of U.S. as well as Latin American history and would serve as an excellent early reading in courses on U.S.-Latin American relations."-Hispanic America Historical Review

"In Path of Empire, Aims McGuinness has crafted a well-conceived and painstakingly executed account of Panama in the face of U.S. imperialism. As far as Americans were concerned, Panama was simply a transit zone, and the efforts of interested parties-Panamanians, travelers, American capitalists-to take advantage of that fact form the meat of this book. By placing this story in his chosen context, McGuinness illustrates the true breadth of his topic."-Journal of American History

"This fine book tells a multilayered story about intersections among people, capital, and nations in Panama during the gold-rush era. . . . It has many virtues: a self-reflexive style; a rich source base in autobiographies, travel accounts, and records from both the United States and Panama; a focus that both acknowledges states and also presents them as comprised of disaggregated actors; a sense of historical change as contested. . . . In this small and carefully researched book, McGuinness rises above the specificity of time and place to address broad questions about race, gender, class, nation, and empire. He also stresses the often lopsided nature of historical remembrances. Scholars from many different fields will appreciate the book's expansive thematic and interpretive reach."-American Historical Review

"Path of Empire makes an important contribution to the historiography of the California gold rush, Panama, and U.S. expansion and intervention in Latin America. It promises not only to expand scholars' knowledge of their fields but also to challenge them to engage previously overlooked transnational connections."-Western Historical Quarterly

"McGuinness is a superb storyteller."-Foreign Affairs

"Path of Empire provides a transnational context for Gold Rush history and draws links between continental expansion and empire-making abroad. Aims McGuinness also shows that colonialist incursions and continental incorporations were closely connected-that the informal empire that was established in Central America was crucial to the formal Americanization of California. This brief book about a small place delivers on its bold ambitions."-Stephen Aron, UCLA, and Executive Director, Institute for the Study of the American West, Autry National Center

"Because it was built in Panama, the first transcontinental railroad-built to connect the eastern U.S. to California-is little known to students of U.S. history. In Path of Empire, Aims McGuinness offers a fascinating example of 'connected histories.' His attention to the interplay of U.S. and Latin American nation-building and racial ideology in one small place offers an international history and a tale of historical detective work."-Donna R. Gabaccia, Director, Immigration History Research Center, University of Minnesota

"You simply must take up Aims McGuinness's offer here, of a lyrical and troubling trip across Panama before there was a canal. What unfolds is better than the transnational history we've all been calling for. His scope takes our breath away, but his real commitment is to the density of daily life, the arc of narrative, and the oracular truths of the archive. The grasping of North America and the birth pangs of 'Latin' America will never read quite the same."-Carl H. Nightingale, University at Buffalo, State University of New York

"Aims McGuinness provides a model of how to do global history from a local perspective. Path of Empire views the global transformations wrought by the California Gold Rush from the vantage points of both poor and elite Panamanians. McGuinness recasts our historical narrative of U.S. imperialism in Central America while he sheds new light on how nineteenth-century intellectuals came to form a common identity as 'Latin American.' This book makes a significant contribution not only to the historiography on Panama but also to that on Colombia and Latin America more generally."-Nancy P. Appelbaum, Binghamton University, State University of New York

"The California Gold Rush and the beginnings of U.S. interest in a Panama Canal are great stories-and here are wonderfully and imaginatively linked by Aims McGuinness's multi-archival research to open fresh, highly important insights into the explosive new characteristics of American imperialism (too many of which sound as familiar in the twenty-first century as they did in the nineteenth), as well as into a growing regional fear of that imperialism, Latin American literature and culture, the hemisphere's slave systems, and the beginnings of Panamanian nationalism."-Walter LaFeber, Andrew Tisch and James Tisch University Professor Emeritus, Cornell University

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