Top Young Historians: 76 – Amy S. Greenberg

TOP YOUNG HISTORIANS

Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

76: Amy S. Greenberg, 12-10-07

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Professor of American History, joint appointment in the Women’s Studies program, The Pennsylvania State University (PSU)
Area of Research: The social, cultural, and political history of the United States, 1789-1865; gender history and constructions of masculinity; American territorial expansionism and Manifest Destiny, Latin America and the United States; urban history.
Education: Harvard University Ph.D. History 1995
Major Publications: Greenberg is the author of Manifest Manhood and the Antebellum American Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2005);Amy S. Greenberg JPG  Cause for Alarm: The Volunteer Fire Department in the Nineteenth-Century City (Princeton University Press, 1998) and is currently working on The U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848) in American Culture and Memory. Greenberg is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others: “Domesticating the Border: Manifest Destiny and the Market in the United States-Mexico Border Region, 1848-1854,” in Disrupted Boundaries: Consumption in the United States-Mexico Borderlands, Alexis McCrossen, ed. (Forthcoming from Duke University Press, 2008); “Fayaway and Her Sisters: Gender, Popular Literature, and Manifest Destiny in the Pacific, 1848-1860” in “Whole Oceans Away”: Melville and the Pacific, Jill Barnum, Wyn Kelley and Christopher Sten, eds. (Kent State University Press, 2007); “Pirates, Patriots, and Public Meetings: Antebellum Expansionism and Urban Culture.” Journal of Urban History 31 (July 2005): 634-650. “The Origins of the American Municipal Fire Department: Nineteenth-Century Change from an International Perspective,” in Municipal Services and Employees in the Modern City: New Historic Approaches, Michèle Dagenais, Irene Maver, and Pierre-Yves Saunier, eds. (Ashgate Press, 2003), 47-65.
Awards: Greenberg is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
The Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching, 1999. University award given to top instructors of undergraduates in the Pennsylvania State University System;
The Kent Forster Memorial Award for Excellence in Research and teaching, 1998, awarded by the Penn State History Department to an outstanding junior faculty member;
Junior Faculty Semester Research Leave, Fall 1998, awarded by the Dean of Liberal Arts;
Derek Bok Center Awards for Excellence in Teaching, Fall 1991, Spring 1992, Fall 1992, Harvard University awards based on student evaluations of teaching performance;
Gilder Lehrman fellowship at the New-York Historical Society, June 2005;
Archibald Hanna, Jr. Fellow, the Beinecke Library, Yale, May, 2003;
Andrew Mellon Foundation Fellow, the Huntington Library, July – August, 2002;
W. M. Keck Foundation Fellow, the Huntington Library, May, 2000;
Institute for Arts and Humanistic Studies, Research Grant, 1999, Penn State University;
Global Fund Grant for International Conference Travel, 1998, Penn State University;
Office of Research and Graduate Studies Faculty Support Grants for Research, Spring 1996, Spring 1997;
Eliot Fellowship for Dissertation Completion, 1995, awarded by Harvard University for exceptional dissertation progress;
Mellon Foundation, Graduate Society Fellowship finishing year dissertation grant, 1994-1995.
Additional Info:
Formerly Acting Director, Richards Civil War Era Center, PSU, 2005-2006, Visiting Scholar, Department of History, University of California at Berkeley, Fall 2002, and Co-Director, Program in American Studies, PSU, 1998-2000.

Personal Anecdote

Although in the abstract I agree with the premise that all writing is autobiographical, years of deep thought haven’t yet allowed me to make the link in the case of my own work. I seem to be drawn, in my historical writing, to violent young men with serious problems with authority and/or borderline sociopathic tendencies. Urban volunteer firemen who regularly get into street battles with gang members and other firemen, filibusters and their supporters who attempt to invade neighboring countries for fun and profit, Gold Rush travelers who raise the American flag in Panama in the 1850s, and now Mexican-American War soldiers. Not only do I not see myself in them, I wouldn’t even like to have them over for dinner (except to mine them for research purposes, of course).

While my work has focused on the evolution of masculine norms in antebellum America, it wasn’t my original intent to study gender. After my dissertation adviser died four months into my first year of graduate school, I stumbled through classes and comps, less focused on history than on my outsider status as a Southern Californian at Harvard, unable to accept the reality that winter boots, tights, and heavy overcoats were not optional in January. I started looking at urban volunteer firemen, a group of rowdy men who protected antebellum America’s cities from the constant threat of fire without pay, after reading an account of their working-class republican ethos. I must admit I was attracted to a group that proudly proclaimed their own social norms and found a way to command respect from the emerging middle class whose property their protected. After compiling a database of firemen and their occupations (like a good social historian), I was, I admit, shocked and dismayed to find that a substantial portion of these “working-class” firemen were actually merchants and clerks. This was when I began to play around with the idea that what bound these men together was not working-class ideology, but some vision of manhood that was, in its own way, equally radical and deviant and important to those who proclaimed it.

A number of San Francisco volunteer firemen left their firehouses in the 1850s to follow the adventurer William Walker, first to Sonora Mexico, and then to Nicaragua, so I followed them into the filibustering project. I found the same celebration of martial masculinity in the ports of Central America and at urban public meetings in support of filibusters like Walker and Narciso Lopez (who repeatedly tried to take over Cuba). Most of the filibusters got their initial taste for imperial adventuring in Mexico in 1847, so now I find myself in their company once again, reading letters from somewhat under-socialized men who have an investment in the physical domination of those they consider their inferiors. I find my undergraduates have less of a problem understanding these guys than I might have imagined before entering the world of Big Ten football.

Quotes

By Amy S. Greenberg

  • Manifest Destiny did not mean the same thing to all Americans. Some Americans, who supported a martial vision of masculinity, advocated an aggressive expansionism that supported territorial acquisitions Manifest Manhood and the Antebellum American Empire JPG through force of arms, and particularly through filibustering. Other Americans, advocates of a more restrained vision of manhood. . . . believed America’s Manifest Destiny would best be accomplished through the proliferation of her superior political and religious forms. . . . In other words, competing gender ideals at home shaped very different visions of American expansionism. Gendered visions of women and men abroad, from Latin America to the islands of the Pacific, justified and reinforced particular practices of manhood and womanhood in the United States. . . . Hegemonic American masculinity, this study will attempt to show, was actually made manifest through the process of antebellum territorial expansionism. — Amy S. Greenberg in “Manifest Manhood and the Antebellum American Empire”

About Amy S. Greenberg

  • “Amy Greenberg’s fascinating account casts new light on Manifest Destiny expansionism by showing how martial conceptions of manhood animated the enthusiasm for territorial annexation in the 1850s. Filibustering, she finds, stemmed not only from economic and political ambitions but from widespread male desires for adventure and romance. Although more restrained visions of manhood also influenced expansionist ambitions, particularly in Hawaii, Greenberg demonstrates that aggressive conceptions of manhood shaped foreign relations long before Theodore Roosevelt rallied the Rough Riders.” — Kristin Hoganson, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign reviewing “Manifest Manhood and the Antebellum American Empire”
  • “In this thoughtfully constructed and informative book, Greenberg develops a highly original thesis about American territorial expansionism and destroys the common wisdom that Manifest Destiny was in its death throes by the Civil War. Providing the most penetrating analysis, to date, of filibustering’s ramifications for U.S. culture, Greenberg convincingly highlights the significance of gendered images, arguments, and ambitions within imperialist and anti-imperialist discourse alike. This book, in engaging prose richly informed by theory but refreshingly free of jargon, makes use of a treasure of source material, especially travel accounts and magazine pieces and convincingly illuminates hitherto unexplored connections between filibustering abroad and urban life at home, while also connecting U.S. military aggression against Latin America with America’s imperial record in the Pacific. This is an insightful and provocative take on nineteenth-century American aggression overseas that has implications for the nation’s modern plight abroad.” — Robert May, Purdue University reviewing “Manifest Manhood and the Antebellum American Empire”
  • “Greenberg is a goddess- no doubt the best professor at Penn State! I have taken three of her courses and enjoyed pretty much all her lectures. She could probably make a course on garbage disposal worthwhile. I would actually take that course.”… “This is my favorite class! I think that Prof. Greenberg is awesome! She is very energetic when teaching the class and I would recommend anyone to take her class!”… “I loved the discussion section of the class. I always leave our Thursday meetings excited and feeling good and actually feeling like I’ve learned something. I really loved this class, I actually wanted to do the readings (at least most of them)!”… “Professor Greenberg is brilliant, funny, and a great lecturer. She really knows her stuff and cares if students learn. I didn’t think a course on the early American republic could be so interesting and make me think about the present in different way. Go volunteer firemen!” — Anonymous Students

Posted on Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 7:28 PM

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