Lilly Library exhibition and symposium examine ‘Globalization of the United States 1789-1861’

Ships illustration from book The Naval Temple

‘Triumphant return of the American Squadron’ is from the 1816 book ‘The Naval Temple.’

With today’s technology, ideas and information travel the globe in the blink of an eye.

Of course, that wasn’t true in the first years of the United States, but its early citizens certainly did look out at the wider world and consider their place in it.

This idea is the focus of a Lilly Library exhibition curated by Konstantin Dierks, associate professor in the Department of History in the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington. Created in conjunction with the professor’s globalization symposium Oct. 10, the exhibition draws upon the library’s rich collection of 18th– and 19th-century books. Key points on early Americans’ views about the world are illustrated through maps, books and illustrations.

Dierks will introduce his ideas in the one-hour talk “A Connecting World? Globalization of the United States 1789-1861.” Both the lecture, which is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 9, in the Lilly Library’s Lincoln Room, and the reception that follows are free and open to the public.

Peter Parley’s Universal History

‘Peter Parley’s Universal History’ from 1837 divided the world’s cultures into different stages of civilization.

It’s important to remember that early Americans didn’t see the world and its people through modern eyes.

Dierks said that just as newer forms of transportation were making geographical distances feel closer, Americans increasingly saw themselves as culturally distant from other people across the globe.

In one display, an 1844 book by S. Augustus Mitchell divides the world into five states of civilization: savage, barbarous, half-civilized, civilized and enlightened. In Mitchell’s view only five countries, including the United States, rose to the level of enlightened.

In another case, a popular geography book by Charles Goodrich extols the virtue of reading about the world rather than experiencing it first-hand through travel, which he considered elitist.

Dierks said that by the 1850s, American explorers were presented as a new breed of national hero for their roles in bringing “the dark places of the earth” within American mastery.

“Globalization of the United States 1789-1861” remains on display through Dec. 18 at The Lilly Library.

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