Our understanding of U.S. imperialism has come a long way in the past 50 years. Then, researchers drew on official documents and focused on state actors, producing studies that framed U.S. dominance of other places and peoples as a natural reaction to events intended to protect national interests or as well-meaning, even noble efforts to bring civilization and democracy to less-developed peoples. Despite critical voices such as Scott Nearing, the field was dominated by apologists like Samuel Flagg Bemis. The range of imperialism studies then expanded in two complementary ways. Scholars like Ernest R. May studied diplomatic activity from the points of view of all state actors, exploring archives in different countries and materials in different languages. Other scholars — encouraged by work in the social sciences on the decision-making process — returned to the U.S. archives to look beyond the Department of...

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