By the mid-1990s, diplomatic historians noted several developments within the field that excited some while disturbing others. Worries of excessive fragmentation emerged, as several leading scholars hoped to establish a modern consensus and synthesis of current diplomatic history. If the 1950’s featured the work of “Consensus School” scholars, the 1960s-70s marked by social turmoil, new populations attending graduate school (think lower and low middle income students, more women and people of color), and a greater attention to social history generally produced what scholars like Gaddis might decry as fragmented uneven account of diplomacy.
The book runs through the historiography of numerous categories – American foreign relations, WWII diplomacy, the use of the atomic bomb, origins of the Cold War in Europe and the Near East, views of the Korean War since 1980, Eisenhower revisionism, JFK, Vietnam, Foreign relations since 1969, synthesis of Latin American foreign relations with the US since WWII, America and the Middle East since 1945, the Cold War in Asia, American economic diplomacy, and the history of American intelligence since 1945. Each proves useful regarding its particular area of concern. Additionally, the terms “revisionist” and “post-revisionist” along with their meanings are highly related to context and what arguments came before. A revisionist view of JFK might be post revisionist if the categorization were different. However, each article fleshes out the various conclusions and directions the particular category has explored.
The book’s first section proves of great interest in terms of considering transnational and postmodern turns in the field. Hogan, Bruce Cummings, Michael H. Hunt, and Melvyn P. Leffler debate the present state and future of diplomatic history from a more theoretical standpoint. Additionally, though not directly present in the discussion, the works and ideas of John Gaddis prove to be a polarizing force in the debate. Gaddis and others decry the post-modern turn in diplomatic history. The criticisms run as follows – the influence of postmodernism has led some historians to neglect archives focusing too resolutely on theory while simultaneously allowing their own political beliefs to warp their scholarly attentions. Leffler furthers this criticism suggesting that though race and gender need to be connected more thoroughly into diplomatic histories, postmodern historians have taken the two categories to far, causing fragmentation and loss of synthesis. Calling for greater integration of political economy, geopolitics, culture, ideology, and gender, Leffler clearly wishes to expand the scope of diplomatic history while maintaining a sense of cohesion. Rather than see the postmodern as a challenge or threat, Leffler appears to view its value as a complimentary force to expand out knowledge of history.
In contrast, Michael H. Hunt notes the defensive crouch many in the field seem to have taken. According to Hunt, diplomatic historians have felt the criticism of their “antiquated” methodology [too much focus on elites and nation-states] and lack of theory. Regarding the fragmentation of the field, Hunt locates three general practitioners. First, the realist – state as the central unit/historical actor, a downplaying of economic and cultural factors with a tent to exhibit national-gender-class bias in part due to the privileging of elites in research. Pre-occupied with the nation state and archives (apparently guilty of not reading sources “against the grain” or considering the inherent biases of archives themselves), realists allow state policy and the like to occupy to much territory at the expense of other equally important factors., “Perhaps the most troubling of realism’s deficiencies are its questionable categories of analysis and its ahistorical interpretive themes.” Second, Hunt identifies the “progress tradition” which in turn birthed the corporatist approach (which editor Michael Hogan helped to establish). Such a methodology attempted to connect domestic policy with forieign policy. One of the earliest examples of this tactic remains William Appleman Williams The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (which in truth drives much of the discussion of the first section since many scholars disagree with its anti-exceptionalist – well I guess that’s a debatable point but still – economically driven view of American imperialism especially in its early late nineteenth/early progressive era beginnings ….. Williams uses the Open Door Policy as the thread of diplomatic policy which fueled much of American thought on expansionism and even Cold War interventions). The Progressive tradition never coalesced into a single group but rather splintered into three separate with corporatism (“Others set off on a third line of development, also influenced by critics, by tempering but not abandoning claims that policy sprang from economic pressures … Initially, focusing on the late 1910s and the 1920s but recently extending into the post WWUU period, the corporatists found a more manageable framework of inquiry in organized economic power, blocs operating in intimate relationship with the state. Banks, industries, export associations, organized labor, and farm groups reflected and articulated the needs of a complex modern capitalism. This system of private and public power was managed by elites and sustained by a corporate ideology stressing compromise in the interest of overall growth and stability.” ) becoming one its most prominent strains. Finally, the rise of the internationalist school marks to a great extent the transnational turn in diplomatic history. A highly pluralistic formulation, the international approach encourages the incorporation of cultural factors in analysis and proves especially good at revealing “the pervasiveness and dangers of ethnocentrism in historical writing no less than in policymaking.” Moreover, “the very diversity of this international research agenda has given rise to a rich array of interpretive framworks and research strategies. The best known of thiese is the multiarchival approach to US relations with the other Great Powers [think Westad, Suri] … [others] have stressed the importance of the transmission and impact overseas of American popular culture and of the hegemony of U.S. media [think Amy Kaplan and to a lesser extent Suffragist in the Age of Imperialism].” Like other writers, Hunt concludes that diplomatic history must take into account non-US state centered perspectives. [ he also notes ironically with regard to the last group of diplomatic historians identified in the quote above, many would not classify themselves as such].