744px-Heinrich_Leutemann_-_Hannibals_Übergang_über_die_Alpen_(cropped) Roman villas in Carthage Scipio Africanus Major

Not all Fantasy: Game of Thrones and its Historical Inspiration

As has been written elsewhere, George R. R. Martin took inspiration for his epic fantasy from the history of England, particularly the War of the Roses, a contest for the throne of England in the late medieval era that pitted the northern York family against the southern Lancasters for control of England’s throne. However, his wider world of Essos and Westeros is inspired by human history as well. Today, I’m going to examine the historical inspirations for the Valyrian Freehold, or just Valyria, the dragon-taming empire that controlled much of Essos and whence the Targaryen family came to build Dragonstone in the Narrow Sea centuries before Aegon the Conqueror and his sister-queens conquered the Seven Kingdoms.... 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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States’ Rights, the Slave Power Conspiracy, and the Causes of the Civil War

Recently I was reading a textbook’s account for the cause of the Civil War. This textbook was attempting to wade a middle ground between the two major arguments for the Civil War’s cause: slavery (and its extension) versus states’ rights. While the States’ Rights argument is definitively refuted by the primary document evidence of the secession crisis, this textbook made the following claim: that the issue of states’ rights was connected to the right of individuals in the states’ to own slaves. I decided that such a claim was worth some thoughtful debunking.... Read More
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More Myths than Greek Myths: Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (2017)

I recently had the opportunity (as many of you may have had) to see Wonder Woman in theaters. There has been much hype about this movie. Not only is it the first post-MCU superhero movie to star a heroine as the focal figure—that is Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman—but it was also directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins. The movie is quite entertaining, with all the elements that make superhero movies enjoyable: jam-packed action sequences, witty dialogue, tension and passion in the romance between the heroine and her love interest/partner, a despicable villain and his henchmen, a hidden enemy, the heroine’s moral crisis at seeing her worldview shattered in the face of reality, self-sacrificing courage, and a colorful cast of supporting heroes. You name it, and Wonder Woman has it.... Read More
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Not Without Meaning or Purpose: Hew Strachan’s The First World War

Strachan, Hew. The First World War. New York: Penguin Books, 2013. The mud-filled fields of Flanders and poems such as Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et decorum est” fill popular imagination about the First World War, the cataclysmic conflict fought between the empires of Europe for continental hegemony and the security of their empires. Much is made […]... Read More
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Testing Whether That Nation Can Long Endure: America as a Failed State during the Civil War?

A few weeks ago, I was reading a chapter in an edited compilation (that will soon be reviewed here on Concerning History) when I came across an odd argument. As the author was introducing the concept of the United States as an overseas empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, he noted the similarities between America’s own independence from Great Britain and the myriad recently-decolonized countries of Africa and Asia. Chief among these was a shared struggle for economic self-sufficiency apart from the mother empire, yet the metaphor was pursued still further to claim that the United States during its civil war in 1860s was a ‘failed state.’ I immediately disagreed, and sent Francis a message gauging his reaction. What follows was his (edited) response.... Read More
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We Love Them Anyway: Guilty Pleasures in TV and Film

Movies and TV shows are often some of the most compelling ways to tell history, but they’re not without cost. Along with every attempt at bringing history to the big or small screen comes the critiques of historians, and we’ve certainly analysed our fair share. Whether it’s structural inaccuracy or imperfections in costuming and makeup, the challenge of adapting the mess of history to a neat narrative always results in some problems, minor or glaringly major. Despite these flaws, however, there are some stories you can’t help but enjoy. Here we’ve assembled a taste of our historical guilty pleasures: movies and TV shows we fully recognize have problematic relationships with the history they portray, but we love them all the same.... Read More
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Pillars of History: No Time Like the Present

When the classic sci-fi TV show Star Trek first aired in the 1960s, TV commentators at the time praised (or condemned) the show for tackling thorny political and social issues within the context of its futuristic and, admittedly, gaudy plot lines. This, in many ways, reflects what is best about art in any form: it reflects, complicates, and offers new perspectives on the world from which it comes. For the world of science-fiction, and even any other art medium, that is fine and welcomed. When it comes to history, however, reflecting the times of the author in the writing of the past is irresponsible at best and the root of a great deal of misconceptions about the attitudes, beliefs, and culture of the people in the past.... Read More