Readers familiar with the work of Frank Ninkovich know to expect big ideas and unexpected juxtapositions. Ninkovich, after all, wrote a history of the domino theory that placed the Cold War concept’s origins in the era of Woodrow Wilson. Ninkovich’s latest book is no less bold. This time around, Ninkovich argues that the notion of “civilization” represented the late-nineteenth century’s equivalent of today’s “globalization.” He also posits that scholars have overestimated the influence of biological racist thinking in the late nineteenth century. Ninkovich instead calls attention to a cohort of liberal elites in the Gilded Age (circa 1865 to 1890) who held a more optimistic and even egalitarian view of non-white peoples. This liberal view, he argues, helped make possible Americans’ more internationalist outlook later in the twentieth century. Not every reviewer in this roundtable fully accepts these claims, but the vitality of the debate underscores how Ninkovich has, once again, assembled creative arguments worth serious attention.
A little more than a decade ago, the world’s leading academic experts on terrorism could be gathered in a not very large conference room to discuss the state of the field. As a relatively junior researcher at the United States Institute of Peace at the time, I was in such a room several times. The gathered experts rued the lack of attention most academics paid to the phenomenon of terrorism. Mainstream political science of the time was wedded to understanding the actions of states. With the exception of a few pioneers such as Martha Crenshaw and David Rapoport, the view of many was that terrorism was properly seen as the province of diplomats, intelligence operatives and abnormal psychologists.