Tag Archives: history

How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States by Daniel Immerwahr

3 Jul

How to Hide an Empire
After Hurricane Maria ravaged the island of Puerto Rico in September of 2017, a poll went viral showing that almost half of all Americans did not know that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. As thousands of Puerto Ricans waited for humanitarian aid from the mainland, lots of historians expressed shock that a large number of Americans seemed to have so little knowledge about an island that is a part of their country. In his provocative new book, How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States Danniel Immerwahr argues that people living in the contiguous 48 states have always mischaracterized the size and scope of their country and sets to expand American history beyond the borders that readers are likely to be familiar with.

Unlike the British, Spanish, and French empires, which were all global in scale and clearly understood to be massive colonial empires, many people in the U.S. grow up learning that their country was founded as an anti-empire or a republic that sought to do away with the colonial ambitions of the European monarchies. This idea is an important part of America’s mythology. Immerwahr’s fascinating book shows why this conception of U.S. history leaves out so much. While many people have little understanding about Puerto Rico’s relationship to the mainland of the U.S., even fewer know that the Philippines was a part of the U.S for almost fifty years. Some maps from the early 1900s even showed the Philippines alongside the United States.

Even more obscure is the history of the hundreds of tiny islands that the U.S. has occupied and claimed. Some of these earliest claims were called the “guano islands,” which were literally uninhabited islands covered in the droppings of seabirds. These islands were valuable because the guano could be scooped clean and bought back to the mainland to be sold as powerful fertilizers.  Another set of islands called Bikini Atool was used as a nuclear testing site after the U.S. forcibly relocated over 100 indigenous inhabitants. Other tiny islands throughout the Pacific became important naval bases. All of these islands remained hidden to the average American.

After World War II, most of the world began giving up their colonies. However, the U.S. would go on to maintain 800 military bases around the world. Immerwahr calls this a “pointillist empire” where instead of powerful countries occupying less powerful ones, a pointillist empire maintains power through hundreds of tiny points on the globe. What I learned from reading How to Hide An Empire is that it’s wrong now and has always been wrong to think of the U.S. as one contiguous land mass. Our history has always been much more complex and expansive than that. This fascinating book made me conceptualize my entire understanding of American geography in a whole new light.

If you are interested in Hoboken history our local history collection is again accessible on the second floor of the main branch.  You can email reference @ hoboken.bccls.org to make an appointment with our Local History Librarian.

The staff of the Hoboken Public Library wishes you a terrific Independence Day!

Written by:
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

The Big Move: Discoveries while Temporarily Relocating Our History Collection

3 Apr

You may have noticed some changes in the local history department this month! If you’ve been up on the second floor, you’ve likely seen that the cages in the Sinatra Room are all empty for the time being. Don’t worry, we’re not getting rid of the history collection – we’re just boxing it all up to keep it safe during some renovations to the building! I couldn’t be more excited about it because I love when historic buildings are restored. It follows along with my field’s mission of historic preservation – I can’t imagine any archivist would be upset about this, even when they have to pack fifty boxes worth of books up to temporarily put them in storage. That admittedly was a lot of work, but it was incredibly important that I did so both to protect the collection and learn more about what we had in that cabinet. I only started working here in May of 2018, so familiarizing myself with the collection has been one of my top priorities, and the best way to do that is to work with it hands-on and see each item myself. This process, naturally, has led to some pretty cool finds, and I’d like to share those with you this month.

We’ll start with some actual library history: before card catalogues existed, how did patrons know what the library’s holdings were? Those holdings were printed in actual catalogue books! A few of those books belonging to our very own Hoboken Public Library have survived in our collection, and once they’re unpacked again you’ll be able to view them here. The especially interesting part is that they’re not just in English – due to Hoboken’s large German-speaking population around the turn of the century, we have a German-language catalogue of the library’s holdings as well!

Or maybe you’re more like me and you have an overly-specific, undergraduate degree in a four-year period in American history. If that’s the case – or if you’re just into the American Civil War – we have a two-volume set of books that provides a complete listing of every New Jersey soldier who served during the conflict by unit. I immediately utilized these upon finding them to look up the records of the individual soldier who had been the subject of my undergraduate thesis at Gettysburg College, where I minored in Civil War Era Studies.  This is a particularly amazing research resource and I fully intend to digitize it completely once the collection is resettled.

Civil War NJ

Baseball history? Yeah, we’ve got plenty of that!


New Jersey history? Check!

Houses NJ

You name it, we might just have it if it is relevant to Hoboken or New Jersey history!

When I packed everything up, I made a full inventory of exactly what we have in the book collection, which you’ll hopefully be able to find on our website within the next few months as I reorganize everything after we’re done with the second floor renovations. There’ll hopefully be something on that list that piques your interest – and as long as you make an appointment to view it, you can take a look at it in person! In the meantime, thanks for being patient with us as we temporarily store everything to keep it safe! (I apologize for any noise I made in the reading room as I was packing boxes.) We’ll be back to normal soon, so stay tuned for more history!   And of course even if some of our physical items are in storage, you can still access some of our collection online.

Written by:
Steph Diorio
Local History Librarian/Archivist at the Hoboken Public Library

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