• An early draft of this paper was presented in 2007 to the Centre for the Study of Historical Consciousness at the University of British Columbia. I thank Peter Seixas for his invitation, and Michel Ducharme for his comments on that occasion. Gary Gerstle and Allan Megill spurred me to think through some difficult questions. Thomas Bender graciously responded to an earlier version with constructive comments. Conversations with Kate Destler and A. Ricardo López were essential to refining my argument. I also thank Thomas Fallace, Patrice Higonnet, David Hollinger, Aaron Sheehan-Dean, Rogers Smith, Mart Stewart, John Tambornino, and History and Theory's editors. The views expressed are my own.


Historians around the world have sought to move beyond national history. In doing so, they often conflate ethical and methodological arguments against national history. This essay, first, draws a clear line between the ethical and the methodological arguments concerning national history. It then offers a rationale for the continued writing of national history in general, and American history in particular, in today's global age.

The essay makes two main points. First, it argues that nationalism, and thus the national histories that sustain national identities, are vital to liberal democratic societies because they ensure the social bonds necessary to enable democratic citizens to sacrifice their immediate interests for the common good. The essay then argues that new methodological and historical work on the history of nations and nationalism has proven that nations are as real as any other historical group. Rejecting national history on critics' terms would require rejecting the history of all groups. Instead, new methods of studying nations and nationalism have reinforced rather than undermined the legitimacy of national history within the discipline.