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From Many, One Narrative: John Keay’s India: A History

I recently realized that, despite my familiarity with its later imperial history, I had little acquaintance with the history of India before the early modern era (and even that was pushing it). When I learned that, before his history of China (reviewed here), John Keay had composed a history of the South Asian subcontinent, I decided to rectify this situation. In so doing, I became perhaps the most aware of how difficult an undertaking such a history must necessarily be.... Read More
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Echoes of History: Tolkien’s Timeless Appeal

This Friday is an important day in literature. September the 22 is the birthday of the iconic characters Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, and as such has been fondly designated ‘Hobbit Day.’ In honor of these two fine halflings, I figured I might record some of my own ruminations on the legacy of the man who brought the Bagginses, and their entire world, so vividly to life.... Read More
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Mixed Signals: Netflix’s Roman Empire: Reign of Blood

The cause of Rome’s fall has been debated almost since the event itself, and with it has come an eternal debate over when that mighty empire first started its irreversible decline. This spring, a new documentary series from Netflix threw its hat into the ring, chronicling the (mis)reign of the Emperor Commodus and Rome’s subsequent slow crumbling. Always a fan of Rome, I gave it a go.... Read More
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Two Island Narratives, Part II: Sapelo

As a part of a troupe of teachers studying Reconstruction, perhaps the most misremembered time in America’s past, I headed to Sapelo Island off the Georgia coast. There a secluded community still lives today, descendants of the former enslaved peoples of the lowcountry south where sea-island cotton was grown for export to textile mills in places like New York, Manchester, and Liverpool. Our group had the chance to get to know the place ourselves. We enjoyed eating the Low Country Boil, a meal consisting of shrimp, potatoes, sausage, and corn in a broth, which locals had enjoyed for centuries. We swam in the warm waters and looked up at the starry night sky while thunder rolled in the distance. I quickly appreciated the natural beauty of the place, and why those who had toiled and bled in the fields would want their children and their children’s children to construct a new life there. Like the “mixed race people” of Malaga in the north, the Gullah-Geechee culture that lives on Sapelo today were likely maligned over the past century and a half as somehow inferior, incapable of caring for the land properly.... Read More
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Two Island Narratives, Part I: Malaga

Some of my earliest memories are of the sea breaking on the rocky cliffs of Small Point, Maine. Every summer, usually in August before the start of school, my parents would drive us up I-95 through Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont, stopping only for lunch in one of a handful of locations on the way to Bath, and then out on the point past Phippsburg. The most anticipated part of the whole trip was of course  the drive up the long dirt road to the Small Point Club house which sat on a bluff overlooking a roughly three mile long beach complete with a tidal river and white cliffs off in the distance.... Read More
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A Furry Whirlwind: Netflix’s Frontier

Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century trade on the American frontier has seen a slight increase in its media depictions in recent years, and I couldn’t be happier. With such offerings as The Revenant and Taboo, the brutal misery and cutthroat business of imperial exploitation in the (by then not-so) New World have been brought compellingly to life. I was excited to learn of another addition to this genre with Netflix’s Frontier. Focusing on the struggle for dominance in the fur trade around Hudson’s Bay in the late eighteenth century, Frontier offered an intriguing possibility for exploring the changing face of empire in America after the cataclysmic shifts of the Seven Years War and American Revolution.... Read More