In National Duties: Custom Houses and the Making of the American State (Chicago, 2016), Gautham Rao makes the case that the origins of the federal government and the modern American state lie in the conflicts at government custom houses between the American Revolution and the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Lauded as “brilliantly researched and smartly argued,” Rao’s book “shows how the early republic depended overwhelmingly on customs revenue to pay its debts, fund its wars, and finance governance,” thus giving merchants involved in overseas trade an outsized role in the shaping of the contours of the federal government.
Justin Jacobs’s new monograph, Xinjiang and the Modern Chinese State (Washington, 2016), views modern Chinese political history from the perspective of Han officials who were tasked with governing Xinjiang, a Muslim border region inhabited by Uighurs, Kazaks, Hui, Mongols, Kirgiz, and Tajiks. His analysis of relations between Han and non-Han peoples within modern China has been praised as representing “a quantum advance in sophistication and precision.” Prof. Jacobs is currently working on Indiana Jones in History: From Pompeii to the Moon, a book and documentary series inspired by a course he teaches at AU (HIST 330 – Antiquities, Exploration, and Empire: From Pompeii to the Moon). The course, documentary, and forthcoming book all provide a cultural history of Euro-American imperial expansion in the modern world, as seen through the lens of political controversies surrounding archaeological digs, expeditions, and exploration.