Recent decades have witnessed an efflorescence of Americanist scholarship concerning the relationship between political thought and literary form. Furnished with more capacious definitions of both the political and the literary, scholars have transcended the narrow framework of national allegory that dominated the field’s early years and explored a wider array of archives. In so doing, they have illuminated how concepts like the state (Eric Slauter), sovereignty (Paul Downes), and citizenship (Carrie Hyde) were imagined into existence.

New books by David Kazanjian and Anne Garland Mahler represent exciting developments of this trend. Kazanjian’s The Brink of Freedom considers two understudied nineteenth-century events, the settlement of Liberia by American exslaves and an extensive Maya uprising in the Yucatán Peninsula (the Caste War), and argues that their participants reimagined the concept of freedom by contesting its reduction to formal manumission or national citizenship. Mahler’s From...

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