Distant Revolutions

Ripples of Republicanism: Timothy Roberts’s Distant Revolutions

It is unwise, as the saying goes, to judge a book by its cover. More specifically, I have increasingly found that the titles and jacket descriptions of history books can be highly misleading as to the nature of the information, and arguments, within. Such was the case with Timothy Roberts’s Distant Revolutions. Heather and I recently acquired this book in an effort to learn more about its titular upheavals after mentioning it in our 2018 historical anniversaries post (found here). I expected a refreshing dose of perspective to American ideas of our own exceptionalism; instead, I found a fascinating history of connections that crossed the Atlantic and bridged the upheavals of 1848 with that of 1861.... Read More
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Imperial Confusion: Stages of Roman Government and Expansion

As I made my way through the second season of Netflix’s Roman Empire (reviewed last week), a line from its narrator (the always delightful Sean Bean) brought me up short. Describing Rome in the middle of the first century BC, the show states that “Rome was not yet an empire, but a Republic.” I snorted with laughter; an old nemesis of mine had reared its ugly head yet again. In an effort to perhaps lessen the spread of this idea, I took to my keyboard in an attempt to explain exactly why I was so bitterly amused, and in so doing shed light on one of the more misunderstood aspects of Roman history: the stages of its government.... Read More
Master of Rome

Cracks in the Marble: Netflix’s Roman Empire: Master of Rome

While we are officially historians of the modern era, faithful readers of this blog will know that both of us are part-time Classicists, and so it should come as no surprise that we welcomed a new season of Netflix’s docudrama series Roman Empire (previously thought to be only a miniseries) with open arms. The new season, subtitled Master of Rome, focuses on the life and exploits of the most famous Roman, one of the most famous people, to ever live: Julius Caesar. We must confess, we were both a bit disappointed by this. The decision to focus Roman Empire’s first season, Reign of Blood, on Commodus at least expanded upon a lesser known figure; Julius Caesar is in no need of such a treatment. Indeed, if you’re looking for an excellent dramatic adaptation of Caesar’s rise and fall, HBO’s Rome will scratch that itch all day. Unfortunately, our disappointment with Roman Empire’s second season did not end with its choice of subject matter.... Read More
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The Historical Middle Earth: Men of the West

Another Hobbit Day (September 22nd, the birthday of both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth) has passed. This year, rather than singing dirges of fallen Gondolin now that we must wait another 365 days to eat a third breakfast (also known as elevenses) without shame, we decided to look at some of the lesser known historical inspirations for crucial civilizations in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.... Read More
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Certain Points of View: Scott Cooper’s Hostiles

Late last year, I caught wind of a new Western starring Christian Bale entitled Hostiles. I wasn’t able to catch it while it was in the theater, but after hearing positive rumblings about it on the interwebs, I resolved to keep an eye out for whenever it might appear on a more convenient streaming service. I’m happy to say that time has finally come. Prepared for a movie that I had heard was not for the faint of heart, I settled in for what turned out to be a grim story that is either a complicated reflection of historical memory or a simplistic fantasy with an overlay of modern sensibility.... Read More
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In Defense of the Rock: Roy and Lesley Adkins’s Gibraltar

We Americans have a habit of paying closer attention to our own history than what goes on in the outside world. Perhaps we can be forgiven for doing so concerning our own war for independence, but even here there is a global story to be told that does not regularly appear in American narratives of the conflict. France and, later, Spain’s entry into the conflict on the side of the fledgling United States made the American Revolution a successor of the Seven Years War, known as the French and Indian War in America, with fighting taking place wherever the map bore British red. Roy and Lesley Adkins bring one of these disparate theaters to light after years of neglect. The American Revolution occasioned one of the longest, fiercest battles in British history as the Empire fought to maintain control over one of its tiniest outposts: the Rock of Gibraltar.... Read More
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What’s in a World War, Part II: Let’s Shorten This Up a Bit

Years ago, in my American Military History class at Gettysburg, our professor began our foray into the Second World War with a curious statement: World War II should actually be considered to have begun in 1937, with the Japanese invasion of China. While normally I would applaud efforts to reduce Eurocentrism and emphasize global connections, I internally scoffed at what I then (and still) considered to be a ridiculous notion. The whole world was not at war yet, only Japan and China; how then could you say that the Second World War had begun? This memory was called to mind recently as Kevin and I reflected on how we define world wars and global conflicts in modern history (found here), and my thoughts began to wander to other, less orthodox, conclusions. Though Kevin and I did not exactly agree on a precise definition of a ‘world war,’ we did agree on three general criteria. Perhaps the most fundamental of these, and the starting point of our debate, was the scope of fighting. A world war is typically a war in which fighting occurs across most of the world. We even later reach the conclusion that this fighting must be connected in some way, as part of a single, cohesive war effort. I was led further and further towards a daring question: if Japan and China’s isolated fight should not count as the beginning of World War II, why should Britain, France, and Germany’s?... Read More
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Thirsty Women: Sophia Coppola’s The Beguiled

About a year ago, we watched, intrigued, as a new trailer for a romantic drama unfolded before us. An independent film with a star-studded cast, it promised suspense, betrayal, and revenge in a tale of stilted lovers and, even better, it was set in during the American Civil War! That film was Sophia Coppola’s The Beguiled, and we couldn’t wait to check it out and bask in the melodrama, for good or for laughably bad. We were finally able to get our hands on it recently, and it while it certainly wasn’t the most enriching film in terms of history, it’s story certainly didn’t disappoint.... Read More
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Far from Home: A Crazy Tale of Myth and Memory in Downtown San Francisco

One hot afternoon this June, Heather and I made our way up to San Francisco from our new(ish) home in the ‘South Bay.’ It was, and still is, our first full summer out here in the Bay Area, and we wanted to see the sights, take in the ambiance, and check out the legendary San Francisco Pride events. While strolling around the green space outside City Hall, I was intrigued to see a statue from behind that seemed to beholding an animal. This was indeed the case, and as my surprise at seeing a miniature lion in a statue’s arms began to register, I was floored by an even bigger realization: this was a statue unlike any I had before seen in America.... Read More
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Remember the North? Michael Pye’s The Edge of the World

If I had a dollar for every time someone claimed to be writing a book about an “unknown,” “overlooked,” or “forgotten” period of history, I would be a very rich man. So often, these periods really aren’t that underserved, and we’ve even at times considered putting together a post listing the most regularly talked about “forgotten” periods of history. When I came across Michael Pye’s Edge of the World, however, I thought I had hit the jackpot. I have a soft spot for histories of the early Middle Ages (sometimes known as the Dark Ages), and few periods of history can claim more accurately to be unknown, as we must work from scarce written sources and physical evidence to reconstruct an elusive historical narrative of Europe’s rebirth after the fall of Rome. Even better, Pye promised to focus on a region lesser known in this period; rather than look for clues to our modern world in the court of Charlemagne or the remnants of Rome, Pye casts his gaze out into the cold world of the North Sea. Baited with prospects of a world system history of the North Sea in the early Middle Ages, then, I was practically salivating to begin reading. While entertaining, however, Edge of the World would fall far short of my lofty hopes.... Read More