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Into the Frozen Weirdness: AMC’s The Terror

Almost a year ago now, Concerning History launched a series entitled “Episodic History,” in which each of us expanded upon some ideas that we felt would make for riveting historically-based television. It should come as no surprise that all of us had to seriously whittle down our lists, and that further installments of this series are in the works. Imagine our surprise and enthusiasm, then, when one of Bryan’s own, cut, ideas received just the treatment we were arguing for. From its first trailer, then, we couldn’t wait to watch AMC’s drama recounting the story of the doomed Franklin arctic expedition. As we eagerly consumed each episode, however, the story The Terror chose to tell got stranger and stranger.... Read More
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Through the Words of Others: Dane Kennedy’s The Imperial History Wars

“The History Wars.” It sounds like the title of some new science fiction show, one with undoubtedly cheesy special effects and horridly inaccurate costuming. In reality, the History Wars are much less exciting. Originally coined in Australia in the 1990s to describe debates over the existence of a colonial genocide of aboriginal peoples, this phrase has come to encompass all such contentious debates over history and memory that have spilled over into the public sphere in recent decades. Imagine my delight, then, at receiving Dane Kennedy’s The Imperial History Wars as a birthday present this past March. I eagerly dove in, anticipating controversies and arguments galore related to my specialty. In place of war, however, I was greeted unexpectedly by a cogent little discussion of the state of British Imperial history as a field of study.... 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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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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Episodic History: Kevin’s Picks

Continuing with our series on eras and events that we think would make for great television, I’ve pulled together my own list of ideas. Make sure to check out Bryan’s and Ryan’s as well. The English Civil War—Enough with the Tudors! The rest of English history needs some love. Imagine a sprawling Game of Thrones-type […]... Read More
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Overflowing with Detail: Jacqueline Rider’s Jacobites

At some point in their high school European History course, American students are inevitably taught the series of events set in motion by the English Civil War. Culminating in the Glorious Revolution and the signing of the English Bill of Rights, these events are presented as pillars of shared Anglo-Saxon principles of liberty and jurisprudence before the course moves on to other things. Rarely covered is the fallout from that revolution, which would span seventy years and three open conflicts within the now-British state. I myself only learned of these risings through my undergraduate coursework and, realizing I still had never delved into the exact history of the most prominent of them, that of 1745 (or “the ‘45”), I sought to rectify the situation. The book that came to hand was Jacqueline Riding’s Jacobites, and while I could not has asked for better, it was certainly not without its trials.... Read More
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Astounding Leniency: The American Civil War and Comparative Rebellions

Months ago, Kevin wrote a speculative piece reflecting on the implications of nineteenth-century concepts of ‘just war’ and their relevance today. Much of this discussion was centered around the American Civil War and the quandary of pursuing a war sharply so as to conclude it swiftly and limit suffering in the long run. Ideas of just war in the American Civil War were further complicated by the fact that the enemies of the United States government were fellow Americans. Or were they? The conflict was at its core a rebellion, and so perhaps it would be useful to consider the Union’s actions (and inactions) in that context. What were contemporary attitudes towards rebellions? What actions were considered justified in their suppression? And, most importantly, why did the United States pursue or not pursue those actions against its own rebellious citizens?... Read More
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Humanity in the Face of Annihilation: Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk

Last Thursday we had the great pleasure of seeing Christopher Nolan’s new film Dunkirk. Chronicling the events of Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of British and French forces from the beaches of Dunkirk after they had been beaten and surrounded by German forces in 1940, Dunkirk is a war movie unlike any we have yet seen.... Read More
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Inexorable Fate: Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom Series

Television is never short on stories set in the Middle Ages, and medieval Britain especially sees more than its fair share of adaptations. It is rare, however, to have two shows running concurrently that cover the same time period. Such is now the case with History Channel’s Vikings and BBC/Netflix's The Last Kingdom. We will certainly review the former on some future date, but as the second season of the latter aired on Netflix this spring, and I have recently caught up with book series on which it’s based, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to review one of my recent favorites.... Read More
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Churchill Begins: Candice Millard’s Hero of the Empire

When I saw that Candice Millard, author of The River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic, had published yet another book, I was intrigued. When I learned that this time her subject matter dealt with Winston Churchill and a British Imperial war, I became excited. For those not familiar with her work, Millard has made a name for herself by engagingly telling the tales of lesser known incidents in the lives of prominent historical figures, accompanied by a level of historical context that both lends depth to her narrative and helps emphasize the importance of the events she describes. Eager to see what might result when she took this approach to a topic I'm familiar with, I dove right in.... Read More