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Switching Sides: Hell on Wheels, Season 5

The final season of Hell on Wheels is radically different than all that came before. In search of his missing Mormon wife and child, Bohannon quits the Union Pacific and ends up the chief engineer of Collis Huntington’s Central Pacific, blasting his way through the Sierras in the race to beat Cullen’s previous employer. As the closing episodes race through the conclusion of the Bohannon-Swede grudge match and the completion of the railroad in Utah, viewers might be a bit disappointed by the varying quality in episodes and the abrupt way some storylines conclude (especially the dangling threads of the revenge plot that began the entire show, now completely forgotten and never addressed). Nevertheless, the decision to switch focus to the Central Pacific comes with exciting new historical ground to cover.... Read More
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Mormons! Hell on Wheels, Seasons 3 & 4

The finale of Hell on Wheels’ second season is draining. Cullen Bohannon’s budding life on the railroad is shaken to the core, and all that exists for him to care about now is finishing the road. As we enter Season 3, we find Cullen a (literally) frozen shell of a man, but as winter ends and the railroad thaws out, our familiar cast of characters returns and Cullen begins to pick up the pieces and move on.... Read More
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Looking Back: A 2017 Historical Retrospective

With 2017 behind us, the staff of Concerning History took some time to speculate what the events of this year might mean to people in the future. As the job of the historian is to consider the past, this task is naturally beyond our expertise and abilities. Nonetheless, we think that a preliminary consideration would be worthwhile for what it says about the experience of living through this year. Throughout our conversation, we’ll be guided by the following question: What will future historians talk about when they talk about 2017?... Read More
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Theory made Literal: Star Wars and Concepts of Empire

For a student of historical empires, it is always fascinating to see how the word 'empire' is used in less academic circles, particularly the nebulous realm that is popular culture. So often in fantasy and science-fiction media, polities and leaders are given titles meant more to convey a sense of majesty or malevolence than to reflect any accurate picture of the structure of the state in question.... Read More
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Each Man’s Own War: Hell on Wheels, Seasons 1 & 2

It is often bemoaned among historians of the American Civil War that the war’s western action is criminally under-studied (though these days that really only still applies to action west of the Mississippi). An equally underappreciated topic is the era immediately after the war, as veterans struggled to readjust to civilian life after ‘seeing the elephant.’ Put these two together in one TV show and you get Hell on Wheels. This gritty western follows Cullen Bohannon, an ex-Confederate, as he gets swept up in the construction of the transcontinental railroad in the late 1860s and holds a wealth of historical landmarks and themes that will leave a discerning historical audience excited (and, in some cases, highly annoyed).... Read More
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Beyond the Wall: Kevin MacDonald’s The Eagle (2011)

It’s a poorly-kept secret that I love swords-and-sandals movies, regardless of their quality. This is especially true of anything involving legionnaires fighting ‘barbarians.’ While I’ve thankfully moved past (most of) the Roman exceptionalism of my high school years, I still love sitting in a theater and feeling thrilled yet unsettled at confronting the figures lurking in the misty, unknowable forests beyond the edge of the ‘civilized’ world. When I was reminded of the 2011 film The Eagle, then, I couldn’t help but check it out. Though I expected to enjoy what would surely be an over-the-top story, I was surprised by how much I loved this movie historically.... Read More
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Fact or Fun? The Peculiar Case of Historical Accuracy in Strategy Games

We all interact with history in so many ways that show our love and joy for the subject. Reading, writing, discussing, watching movies and TV (and let’s not forget running history blogs); there’s no shortage of ways to consume and revel in history. One admittedly-geeky avenue that lies close to my heart is the realm of historically-set strategy games, whether board games (like Risk and Axis & Allies) or video games (either of the turn-based variety, like Total War, or real-time, like Age of Empires and Europa Universalis). These games, especially the virtual variety, give me the unparalleled opportunity to really dig my hands into the workings of history and play around with its causes and effects. As with any media adaptation, however, historical strategy games pose the conundrum of accuracy versus enjoyment for an historian, yet this particular conundrum comes with its own unique paradox: a truly fun historical game lets players actively steer their own version of events.... Read More
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Imperial (Mis)Adventures: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

I love Indiana Jones. From a young age, the adventures of that methodologically irresponsible archaeologist inspired me to explore all the ancient history I could get my hands on. Even so, an historically-minded review of any Indiana Jones movie is not exactly fertile ground. The history of Jones’ archaeological endeavors is highly massaged, to say the least, yet there is another source of historical inspiration in these movies: each one is a period piece set in the 1930s (or 50s, in the case of the unfortunate fourth installment). While the first and third movies are rather straightforward in their Nazi-fighting setting, the second movie, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, is an exploration of British India that has become ever-more fascinating after my own time studying the empire.... Read More
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Cutting through Muddled Memory: Murray Pittock’s Culloden

A few months ago, I delved into the history of the Jacobite Rising of 1745 through Jacqueline Rider’s Jacobites (reviewed here). My quest for greater knowledge was more than sated, though it came with a deluge of minute detail. Curious whether I could find a more engaging narrative of the ‘45, I recently turned to Murray Pittock’s installment on Culloden in Oxford University Press’s Great Battles series. A short work of barely more than one hundred and fifty pages, Culloden unfortunately flew wide of my mark, yet surprised me in the best of ways.... Read More
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Gut-wrenching Tragedy: Terry George’s The Promise (2017)

Certain battlegrounds swirl around the memory of particular historical periods and events. The most contentious here in the United States is the manufactured controversy over the causes and legacies of the American Civil War. Another, in much the same vein of implausibility, is Turkey’s denial of the genocide of the Armenian people pursued by the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. The 2017 film The Promise, starring Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale, thus grabbed my attention well before its release for its intent to cast a glaring spotlight on the atrocities committed by Turkish forces as well as showcase some of the leisurely splendor of Constantinople (Instanbul) in those final hoary days before the world was lit aflame. Much to my chagrin, however, I was only recently able to give this film my attention.... Read More