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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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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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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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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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War on all the World: Starz’s Black Sails

The end of March brought with it the finale of the Starz series Black Sails. I’m a sucker for anything involving wooden ships and broadsides, so it was natural that I would eventually try the show out. As I began watching, all I knew was that it was a gritty pirate drama in the style of so many recent offerings from similar premium services. Imagine my delight when I discovered not a pulpy sensationalist naval warfare fix but a masterfully crafted historical drama.... 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