This essay, originally delivered as the SHGAPE Presidential Address in April 2019, takes as a starting point the fiftieth anniversary of William Appleman Williams's The Roots of the Modern American Empire: A Study of the Growth and Shaping of Social Consciousness in a Marketplace Society. Itfinds that Williams's claims about the agrarian roots of the modern American empire remain an important corrective to imperial denial, including to the stubborn idea of the American heartland as a locus of isolationist impulses, as a place better characterized as endangered by global forces than as a wellspring of power. Broadening out beyond Williams's export-centered analysis, this essay highlights some of the multi-directional links that connected the rural heartland to the wider world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By turning a seemingly local history inside out, it draws attention to longer histories of settler colonialism, the import side of trade ledgers,transimperial solidarities, and the networks of anticolonial resistance that emerged in land grant colleges. In addition to reframing nationalist mythologies more precisely as white nationalist mythologies, it concludes that there is no going back to the heartland of myth because it never existedin the first place.
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