Steinbock-Pratt on Hoganson and Sexton, 'Crossing Empires: Taking U.S. History into Transimperial Terrain'

Kristin L. Hoganson, Jay Sexton, eds.
Sarah Steinbock-Pratt

Kristin L. Hoganson, Jay Sexton, eds. Crossing Empires: Taking U.S. History into Transimperial Terrain. American Encounters/Global Interactions Series. Durham: Duke University Press, 2020. 360 pp. $28.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-4780-0694-7; $104.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4780-0603-9. 

Reviewed by Sarah Steinbock-Pratt (University of Alabama) Published on H-Diplo (August, 2020) Commissioned by Seth Offenbach (Bronx Community College, The City University of New York)

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In editing Crossing Empires, Kristin L. Hoganson and Jay Sexton have issued a challenge to their contributors, and to all who write transnational history: to “make imperial history visible in ways that early work in transnational history has not” (p. ix). By using a transimperial lens, examining movements across, collaborations between, and comparisons of empires rather than nations, they hope to encourage scholars to “call out empire when it appears” and to understand the ways that imperial processes and power influenced the origins of globalization (p. 11). The grander purpose behind this work is to push back against nationalist narratives, what they call the “stand-alone paradigm,” to illuminate the varied and multilayered connections between empires (p. 6). Ultimately, this collection is not calling for the creation of a new subgenre in the field. Indeed, many of the scholars within this volume have already published works along these lines. Rather, Hoganson and Sexton are calling for a reframing of historians’ approach to an existing literature.

The thirteen essays in this collection encompass a broad geographic and chronological focus. They range from American fur sealers traveling into and through the Russian and Spanish Empires in the nineteenth century, to efforts to control US Empire in the southern Philippines, to collaborations between Indigenous activists in Australia and Washington in the late twentieth century. All of these chapters, however, are united in a concern for the ways the empires influenced, and were influenced by, global migrations and networks.

The most successful of these contributions have fully embraced the clarion call to action, presenting scholarship that has transimperial processes at its heart. Julian Go’s essay on the secret ballot demonstrates that this “technology of modern liberal democracy” could be used to starkly different ends across the British and US Empires, from suppressing voter participation in the US South and New York City, to decreasing elite control in England, to building a colonial state in the Philippines (p. 94).

Oliver Charbonneau’s essay on Mindanao-Sulu reveals that the southern Philippines was not just a frontier in American and Filipino imaginaries; it was a transimperial node, a border zone between the islands and Borneo, and between US and British imperial networks. At the same time, it was a region that continued to be shaped by the legacy of the Spanish Empire, and by the Dutch and British presence in Southeast Asia. Mindanao-Sulu, at the crux of imperial, national, and local contests, allows the reader to appreciate transimperial politics that are rooted in one region.

Finally, Margaret D. Jacobs’s essay presents a fascinating look at transimperial Indigenous women’s activism and collaborations. Not only were the child removal policies enacted against Indigenous communities similar in British and US colonial praxis, and deliberately so, but Indigenous women’s activists also found common ground in working together to develop strategies of resistance.

Not all of the essays in this collection are as successful at putting the transimperial at the heart of their analysis. However, the collection as a whole is a strong one and presents an important theorization of globalization and imperial power and processes at local, national, and imperial levels. As Stephen Tuffnell eloquently puts it, “the term transimperial makes visible the powerful imperial formations that figured prominently in the border-crossing relationships of a world of empire” (p. 48). This collection will be of particular use in graduate seminars, though it is of value to all scholars thinking through the ways that we understand movements across, interactions between, and comparisons of empires.

Sarah Steinbock-Pratt is an assistant professor of the United States in the world at the University of Alabama. Her first book, Educating the Empire: American Teachers and Contested Colonization in the Philippines, was recently published with Cambridge University Press.

Citation: Sarah Steinbock-Pratt. Review of Hoganson, Kristin L.; Sexton, Jay, eds., Crossing Empires: Taking U.S. History into Transimperial Terrain. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. August, 2020. URL:

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