Margaret Cook Andersen’s book, Regeneration through Empire: French Pronatalists and Colonial Settlement in the Third Republic (University of Nebraska Press, 2014), examines how France’s position as an imperial power shaped demographic debates from 1870 to 1940. As France’s birthrate steadily declined during the nineteenth century, concerned citizens feared that France was headed towards depopulation and sought solutions to the crisis. Reformers believed that it was not enough to encourage French population growth solely within France’s borders; true demographic prowess entailed extensive colonial settlement and financial support for French families, both in France and the empire, where French settlers tended to have higher birthrates.
In Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830–1880 (Cambridge University Press, 2014), Luke Harlow shows the influential role of debates over Christian “orthodoxy” in the shaping of American political debates about slavery and abolition. Focusing on the border slave state of Kentucky, which claimed a longstanding antislavery presence and remained in the Union during the Civil War, Harlow explains how theological conservatism compelled the majority of the state’s whites to embrace the Confederate cause after the fact. In so doing, the book shows both the potential and limitations of public discourse about race and slavery throughout the United States before, during, and after the Civil War.
Laura Nenzi’s The Chaos and Cosmos of Kurosawa Tokiko (University of Hawaii Press, 2015) follows the story of a self-described “base-born nobody” whose life coincided with Japan’s transition from the early modern to the modern eras. A peasant woman, teacher, and divination specialist turned political activist, Kurosawa Tokiko (1806-1890) tried to change the course of history and failed. Spectacular yet ultimately inconsequential, her actions on both sides of the Tokugawa-Meiji divide nuance our understanding of political consciousness among the non-elites in nineteenth-century Japan and illuminate some of the tactics ordinary individuals deployed to preserve their identities and legacies against the relentless attacks of progress, science, and modernity.
In Empires of Coal: Fueling China’s Entry into the Modern World Order, 1860-1920 (Stanford University Press, 2015) Shellen Wu argues that the changes specific to the late Qing were part of global trends in the nineteenth century, when the rise of science and industrialization destabilized global systems and caused widespread unrest and the toppling of ruling regimes around the world. When the first China Geological Survey began work in the 1910s, conceptions of natural resources had already shifted, and the Qing state expanded its control over mining rights, setting the precedent for the subsequent emergence of the Republican and People’s Republic of China regimes.