Stefan Eklöf Amirell
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The exceptional normal
Hugh Lenox Scott (1853–1934) and the United States’ imperial expansion
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In his study of US Army officer Hugh Lenox Scott, Stefan Eklöf Amirell uses the biography of Scott to decentre our understanding of US imperialism. By meticulously pursuing the question of the normal versus the exceptional in Scott’s trajectory, Amirell demonstrates the complexity of white male US imperialism. It was an endeavour which combined ruthless violence, mortifying stereotypes and romanticism with a genuine curiosity for Native American life. Scott’s ethnographic capital would turn out to be a military career asset, positioning him as a gifted negotiator in US colonial hotspots in the Philippines and Cuba. Indeed, Scott’s trajectory forces us to rethink conventional narratives of the military’s role in imperial projects – such as for instance the link, made by sociologist George Steinmetz, between a military habitus, the readiness to use violence and the denigration of ethnographic knowledge – while also posing the wider challenge of how to conceptualize imperialism so as to be able to contain figures like Scott in our narratives. Amirell uses the exceptional normal as an optic by which to measure Hugh Lenox Scott against the standards of his time and at the same time shows the exceptional normal as a problem in global historical method and perspective.

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