American Imperialist: Cruelty and Consequence in the Scramble for Africa (Hardcover)

American Imperialist: Cruelty and Consequence in the Scramble for Africa By Arwen P. Mohun Cover Image

American Imperialist: Cruelty and Consequence in the Scramble for Africa (Hardcover)


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This biography of “African explorer” Richard Dorsey Mohun, written by one of his descendants, reveals how American greed and state power helped shape the new imperial order in Africa.
Richard Dorsey Mohun spent his career circulating among the eastern United States, the cities and courts of Europe, and the African continent, as he served the US State Department at some points and King Leopold of Belgium at others. A freelance imperialist, he implemented the schemes of American investors and the Congo Free State alike. Without men like him, Africa’s history might have unfolded very differently. How did an ordinary son of a Washington bookseller become the agent of American corporate greed and European imperial ambition? Why did he choose to act in ways that ranged from thoughtless and amoral to criminal and unforgivable?
With unblinking clarity and precision, historian Arwen P. Mohun interrogates the life and actions of her great-grandfather in American Imperialist. She seeks not to excuse the man known as Dorsey but to understand how individual ambition and imperial lust fueled each other, to catastrophic ends. Ultimately, she offers a nuanced portrait of how her great-grandfather’s pursuit of career success and financial security for his family came at a tragic cost to countless Africans.
Arwen P. Mohun is professor of history at the University of Delaware. She teaches and writes about capitalism, technology, and gender in American history. Her most recent book is Risk: Negotiating Safety in American Society.
Product Details ISBN: 9780226828190
ISBN-10: 0226828190
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: November 16th, 2023
Pages: 328
“Mohun further pulls back the veil on American collusion with King Leopold in his brutal rule over the Congo Free State. More specifically, she exposes the ways in which men like her great-grandfather participated in the violent subjugation of African peoples and the seizure of African lands to enrich the coffers of the Belgian monarch. In telling her ancestor’s story, taking the reader from the shores of Zanzibar to Boma, Mohun reveals how Dorsey’s time in Africa embodied the ‘remarkable influence of American money and expertise’ in imperial ventures during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”
— Jeannette Eileen Jones, author of '"In Search of Brightest Africa: Reimagining the Dark Continent in American Culture, 1884–1936"

“When a historian begins to untangle family myths, very interesting things emerge. Remembered as an ‘African explorer,’ the man who was simply called ‘Dorsey’ was representative, a stereotype brought to life. But Mohun’s deft and delicate recovery of a family ancestor reveals a more complicated person, at once desperate and anxious and confident, his past precarious and his future uncertain. Herein lies the all-too-human story of how one ordinary person, buffeted by the winds of change, seeks refuge in the service of the American empire and becomes its most perfect avatar.”
— Matthew Guterl, author of 'Skinfolk: A Memoir'

American Imperialist is an engrossing and well-researched book that effectively draws on manuscripts, government archival sources, and contemporary print media. Richard Dorsey Mohun, the subject of the book and the author’s great grandfather, is a fascinating and little-known figure whose career instructively points to the ways that a bureaucrat’s work can be deeply entangled in the project of US imperialism.”
— Ira Dworkin, author of 'Congo Love Song: African American Culture and the Crisis of the Colonial State'