Civil Wars

A Perplexing Journey: David Armitage’s Civil Wars

I first encountered David Armitage through a textbook in my Atlantic World survey course sophomore year at Gettysburg. That book, The Declaration of Independence: A Global History, is an outstanding bit of intellectual history. I still have it, packed away in a box somewhere, and it was likely one of the first inspirations for my eventual turn away from American history and towards a larger perspective. When I learned of Armitage’s 2015 history of comparative civil wars, it was only a matter of time before I got around to reading it. While its contents didn’t quite live up to my expectations, Civil Wars certainly proved as intellectually stimulating as I’ve come to expect from this distinguished historian.... Read More
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Trying to Do Too Much: Netflix’s Outlaw King

Billed alternately as a somewhat-sequel to the classic movie Braveheart and “the real story of Scottish independence that Braveheart didn’t tell you,” (the two aren’t mutually exclusive, by the way), Netflix’s new film featuring Chris Pine as the titular character, Robert the Bruce, has been on my radar for a while. Being somewhat familiar with this period of Scottish history, or at least, familiar enough to want to see the Bruce portrayed historically faithfully, I dove right in after it dropped on Netflix November 9. While I enjoyed Outlaw King well enough, one thing it most certainly is not is historically accurate.... Read More
Spartacus Caesar-and-Crassus

Man Pain for Days: Starz’s Spartacus

This show has been on my watch list for years. Ironically, it was originally recommended to me by my brother (I’m usually the one mentioning historical shows he might like). I had heard other rumblings and knew something of its reputation since, but only recently, when I saw that it had made it onto Netflix, did I finally get around to checking it out. Spartacus both delivered on everything I had heard and surprised me with its gratifying attention to historical detail.... Read More
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
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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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
Gibraltar

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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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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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