9780198702511

A World Afire: Empires at War, 1911-1923

The Great War has come to be known as the First World War for rather obvious reasons. For four years it engulfed the globe in a conflict the magnitude and ferocity of which had never before been seen. This violence extended so far outside of Europe as a direct result of its key belligerents’ imperial holdings. Despite this, a preponderance of Great War history has focused on the infamous Western Front specifically and the war in Europe more generally. In this edited volume of articles, Robert Gerwarth and Erez Manela have assembled an array of perspectives that attempt to realign that focus, casting our attention not only beyond the confines of Europe but outside of the standard periodization of the war years as well.... Read More
Britannia Mongol

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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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
9780198732259

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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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
9780385535731

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
Lord_Arthur_Wellesley_the_Duke_of_Wellington Last Stand

A Persistent Fiction: Myths of British Martial Prowess and Their Appeal

A few weeks ago, as I was reading Candice Millard’s Hero of the Empire (which shall be reviewed on this very blog in four days), I came across a puzzling statement. In her prologue, Millard described the British army as “one of the most admired and feared fighting forces in the world.” Anyone familiar with the ersatz history of the British army in Europe or Britain’s imperial holdings might look askance at such a dubious claim, but I thought little of it at the time save to raise an intellectual (and physical) eyebrow. As is so often the case, however, this inciting incident opened my eyes to more and more use of this or a similarly-worded error. I have since encountered it in material covering a diverse range of subject matter concerning Britain in the period of its empire, authored by historians spanning a wide array of training and background. Rather than composing a direct rebuttal of these claims of a superlative British army, I instead became preoccupied with determining the reasons one might buy into such an easily-refuted detail. What follows below is an account of my efforts and, incidentally, a fair amount of refutation in its writing.... Read More
First Crusade

Byzantium Ascendant: Peter Frankopan’s The First Crusade

The Crusades have justifiably proven a focus of attention for both academics and the general public for centuries. It can hardly be avoided in Western history curriculums, yet Peter Frankopan's analysis of their instigation is not one commonly encountered. The First Crusade is, above all else, a rehabilitation for the character of Emperor Alexios Komnenos, ruler of the Byzantine Empire and, according to Frankopan, the man responsible for both the existence and the successes of the host of Christendom.... Read More
large_5midPf1b8pI5xlJsNn4eQLwPNtA king-arthur-2004-knights karthur5x

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
TJatTP

Just Stop: Brian Kilmeade’s Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates

Abandon ambiguity, all ye who enter here. Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger’s Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates reads like an adventure novel, complete with dashing heroes, daring deeds, and a suitably triumphant conclusion. The events themselves that Kilmeade and Yaeger are concerned with are related competently enough. Its trade threatened by the privateers employed by the North African states of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli and unwilling to pay a preventative tribute, the United States under President Jefferson embarked on a series of naval operations designed to enforce a peace more conducive to American commerce and in so doing took the first steps toward increased American prestige and involvement beyond its own shores. In the process, however, Kilmeade and Yaeger produce one of the most unaware and insular works of history I have ever had the misfortune to read.... Read More