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Marius Kleinknecht


Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin

“So Early in Life as a Nation” – The Early Republic’s Foreign Policy with the Barbary States, 1776-1815 (Dissertationsprojekt)

Dissertation in Geschichte

Mentoring Team:
First supervisor: Prof. Sebastian Jobs
Second supervisor: Prof. Sönke Kunkel
Third supervisor: Prof. Lawrence A. Peskin

This research project is an analysis of early American relations with the so-called Barbary States (the regencies of Morocco, Tripoli, Algiers, and Tunis) during the time of the early Republic. Between 1500 and 1800, these four regencies enslaved over one million European sailors in the Mediterranean. Great Britain’s navy had by and large ensured its commonwealth immunity from this practice. However, when the United States declared independence, this protection soon ended and American citizens were enslaved by the Barbary States. What followed were the so-called Barbary Wars – two military expeditions by the United States, lasting from 1801-1805 and in 1815 respectively.

In light of this aggressive foreign policy, the dissertation will address the following research questions:

1. How was the image of a supposedly “uncivilized” (Muslim) Other utilized to form a more united American polity by contrasting the (supposedly “enlightened”) American people with a common enemy?

2: To what extent can it be argued that U.S. foreign policy with the Barbary States was motivated by a desire to demonstrate the concept of American Exceptionalism to the world (especially Europe)?

3. In how far did United States political, diplomatic, and military leaders evoke and/or construct the notion of a national crisis in order to justify a belligerent foreign policy?

From a methodological standpoint, the dissertation employ an interdisciplinary approach to answer these questions. Utilizing Constructivist theory, the project aligns itself in the tradition of scholars such as E.J. Hobsbawm, Terrence Ranger, Ernest Gellner, and Benedict Anderson.

This dissertation hopes to constitute a contribution to the existing scholarship of nations and nationalism, investigate the curent research gap with regards to the interpretation of the Barbary Wars in their role of articulating an American national identity, and involve itself in the discussion about the origins and evolution of Muslim-American relations.

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft