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Anatomy of Battle: The Siege of Minas Tirith

Hobbit Day has come again, and with it, Bryan and Francis’ now-traditional post discussing some element of intersection between history and that beloved fantasy realm of Middle Earth. This week, in what may become a long-running series here at Concerning History, Bryan and Francis dissect the climactic siege of Minas Tirith and Battle of the Pelennor Fields from The Return of the King, showcasing multiple elements of historical inspiration, or at least historical echoes, for the biggest battle described in detail Tolkien’s legendarium. Please forgive the longer-than-usual post; they’re both incurable nerds...... Read More
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Historical Fantasy: A “New” Genre in K.J. Parker’s Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City

The school year’s done and I, as an overworked teacher, have a stack of books to tackle this summer. A few of them fall into a category of fiction I have recently discovered called “historical fantasy.” Essentially, these are books set in a quasi-Earth world that is very recognizable as a historical time and place in human history, but also fantastically different. Good examples of such books are Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale (which I recommend) or A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (haven’t read, but hearsay makes it seem like a good fit).... Read More
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Read a Book Instead: Netflix’s Empire Games

When we saw a new show air on Netflix, we both eagerly messaged each other with the news. The show was Empire Games, and its premise of telling previously unknown histories of ancient empires was right up our alley. Not long into our respective first episodes, we felt profoundly betrayed.... Read More
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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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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