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Bookreview: American commodities in an age of empire. By Mona Domosh. New York: Routledge. 2006. ix + 202 pp. $29.95 paperback. ISBN: 0415945720

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Morin, Karen M.

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Abstract 523BookreviewAmericancommodities in an age of empire. By Mona Domosh. New York: Routledge. 2006.ix + 202 pp. $29.95 paperback. ISBN: 0415945720SAGE Publications, Inc.2008DOI: 10.1177/14744740080150040706Karen M.MorinBucknell UniversityFewhistorical geographers whose research is archival-based could write such asmall, succinct book on the subject of American empire building in the 19thand early 20th centuries. This book convinces the reader that American imperialism – whether or not one believes it to have been `informal,' `peaceful,' `free,'or `exceptional' – was fundamentally a business venture of pro- ducingcommodities and cornering markets for them overseas. Domosh examines Americancom- mercial imperialism primarily through three US corporations: Singer Manufacturing,McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, and the H. J. Heinz Company. She arguesthat American foreign economic and cultural dominance were achieved throughthe civilizing `uplift' that commodities such as sewing machines, harvestingmachines, and manufactured food products such as pickles and jellies broughtto the less developed. American imperialism, according to Domosh, was enacted`not through laws but through everyday acts of desiring and consuming' (p.9). American commodities resonates closely with Anne McClintock's work. ToDomosh, con- sumer products do the `work' of civilization, so political, military,religious, and other means were unnecessary to the American project. Domoshhighlights in her final chapter her notion of the `flexible racism' that wasrequired for economic and cultural integration and domin- ance; that is, othernations and peoples `became white' and modern through consumption of Americanproducts. Progress of such nations and peoples, then, could be measured notthrough some racial schema or hierarchy but through economic development measures.In all of this, the role of the US government and military apparatus in developinga foreign policy to enable these ventures is elided, in favor of foregroundingthe role of businessmen, advertising executives, and so on who were set todirectly make the profits (although in many cases, these and `the government'were probably the same people). One might wonder how this book, written bya geographer, differs from other similar works on the topic. In that respect,readers will find an especially useful model for historical economic geographyin Chapter 2, where Domosh carefully lays out the developing orga- nizationaland manufacturing structure of these companies at various scales. The volumeis also loaded with visual images, especially product advertising, and theauthor is as proficient at engaging the reader with these texts as any others.
Document language English
Publication Year 2008
Page/Pages p. 523-523
Journal Cultural Geographies, 15 (2008) 4
Status Postprint; peer reviewed
Licence PEER Licence Agreement (applicable only to documents from PEER project)