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Towards a More Total War: ‘Gentlemanly Warfare’ and the Rise of the Nation-State

One of the most controversial figures in the history of the United States is William Tecumseh Sherman. For his direction of a single campaign in the fall and early winter of 1864, Sherman has been reviled by nigh-half the country while providing military historians endless fodder for debating the origins of the philosophy of ‘total war.’ Even and perhaps especially for his detractors, Sherman’s strategy of destroying (supposedly) non-military and civilian resources is seen as somehow original, a new and innovative way of waging war that would come to dominate the twentieth century. There’s only one problem with that conventional wisdom: it’s patently ridiculous.... Read More
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Episodic History: Bryan’s Picks

In just a few days, Friday will see the premier of the much-anticipated movie Dunkirk, which tells the story of the World War II battle of the same name in which British and French forces were evacuated across the English Channel by civilian watercraft under the guns of the Third Reich. When done well, all of us here at Concerning History love seeing history on the big and small screens, as it seems to bring the past to life with a vibrancy and immediacy lacking in other media as well as powerfully impact public perception and memory of events. The number of history-related series on television or streaming services especially has blossomed in recent years. We all have our special interests, though, and can’t help but pine for some of our pet topics to get the attention we know they deserve. In what we hope will become a long-running series, I’ve decided to pull together a list of a few historical events and periods I feel would make for highly compelling or necessary television.... Read More
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Dueling Perspectives: John Keay and J.A.G. Roberts’s Histories of China

Some months ago, as Francis and I were discussing a potential piece for the blog, I realized I needed to brush up on my grasp of Chinese history. Perusing the shelves of my local library, I happened upon two promising volumes. The first, China: A History, was penned by esteemed journalist John Keay, while the second, A Concise History of China, was written by English academic J.A.G. Roberts. Faced with a more public, accessible volume on the one hand and an academic’s historical survey on the other, I decided to read them both and then compare them in a rare tandem review.... 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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Grand Prize, or Honorable Mention? The Case of American Settler Empire

Last week I undertook to unpack the question “What was history’s greatest empire?” In so doing, I discussed numerous possible criteria while refraining to ever actually answer the question. For those looking for my final answer in this post I make no guarantees you will be satisfied, but perhaps I can supply a more solid proposal than last time.... Read More
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Size, or How You Rule It? Determining History’s Greatest Empire

One fall morning in 2015, as I sat in my Training and Methods course in the Oxford History Faculty, my peers and I were pressed for the answer to a question rather unorthodox for a room full of academics: what was the greatest empire in history? Asked by the late, redoubtable Dr. Jan-Georg Deutsch, the question compelled us all to silence as we contemplated what was so obviously a trap, yet equally a tantalizing opportunity for debate. Boldly (perhaps one might say brashly), I ventured an answer that attempted to dissect the question... Read More
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Greater than Its Parts: The Prospect of Global History

The Prospect of Global History is different than any book I have reviewed thus far. Part manifesto and part proposition, its chapters do not generally seek to argue any particular thesis but rather to elaborate on the analytical framework of the subdiscipline and, through seven case studies, illuminate how that framework can be fruitfully applied across topics and eras.... Read More
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A Valiant Effort: Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur (2004)

Today sees the premier of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, the latest in a long line of films focusing on the mythical British king. Though this most recent movie has little to do with the historical record, I wanted to take the opportunity to discuss one that does: 2004’s King Arthur. Starring Clive Owen as Arthur and Keira Knightley as Guinevere, King Arthur’s attempt to tell the grounded story of an historical figure who inspired the legends is one that has long been a favorite of mine, despite its numerous flaws and inaccuracies. I had originally planned to discuss it as my guilty pleasure during launch week, but realized I simply had too much to say on the topic for a single paragraph.... Read More
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Crucible of the World: Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads

From its main title, one could be forgiven for assuming this book to be simply a regional study of Central Asia. Yet Peter Frankopan's The Silk Roads: A New History of the World begins with much loftier goals. Having been fascinated with the history of the broadly-defined Middle East in his youth, Frankopan asserts that he is here to posit a new method of understanding history: one that challenges European narratives of inevitable triumph and restores Central Asia to its place as the fulcrum of world history. In the process, however, The Silk Roads delivers simultaneously more and much, much less than Frankopan promises.... 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