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A Comprehensive Tapestry: Rob Johnson’s The Great War and the Middle East

As in any conflict spanning a vast geographic area, the First World War has theaters that have been discussed ad nauseum and theaters that warrant barely a mention in all but the most academic of publications. The Western Front and, more generally, the war in Europe have always constituted the former, while the sub-Saharan African and East Asian theaters are most often the latter. The Middle East falls in an odd area between these two extremes. Certain military operations, like Gallipoli or the Arab Revolt, are no less famous than the Somme or Verdun, yet even I did not know the details of the vast majority of the campaigns that swung back and forth across the sands and mountains of that most ancient of regions. The irony here is thick; the legacies of the First World War and its peace settlements are perhaps most visible in the Middle East, both in its political geography and in the accompanying unrest in the region. Rob Johnson’s The Great War and the Middle East is a valuable corrective to this patchy record, and while Johnson’s prose may not be the most approachable for members of the general public, the information contained within weaves a comprehensive tapestry of the Great War in the Middle East.... Read More
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Not all Fantasy: Game of Thrones and its Historical Inspiration

As has been written elsewhere, George R. R. Martin took inspiration for his epic fantasy from the history of England, particularly the War of the Roses, a contest for the throne of England in the late medieval era that pitted the northern York family against the southern Lancasters for control of England’s throne. However, his wider world of Essos and Westeros is inspired by human history as well. Today, I’m going to examine the historical inspirations for the Valyrian Freehold, or just Valyria, the dragon-taming empire that controlled much of Essos and whence the Targaryen family came to build Dragonstone in the Narrow Sea centuries before Aegon the Conqueror and his sister-queens conquered the Seven Kingdoms.... Read More
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Definitely Not the Poem: Wolfgang Peterson’s Troy

I positively love the movie Troy. This will be sacrilege to many people, including my high school Latin teacher. Some find its characters and story too overblown or campy, while for adherents of Homer and his classical epics, the movie is a travesty that bears only the most topical similarity to the Iliad. I can’t argue either of these points (though I might temper the first), but I find this film incredibly captivating in spite, and in many cases because, of them.... Read More
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Gut-wrenching Tragedy: Terry George’s The Promise (2017)

Certain battlegrounds swirl around the memory of particular historical periods and events. The most contentious here in the United States is the manufactured controversy over the causes and legacies of the American Civil War. Another, in much the same vein of implausibility, is Turkey’s denial of the genocide of the Armenian people pursued by the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. The 2017 film The Promise, starring Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale, thus grabbed my attention well before its release for its intent to cast a glaring spotlight on the atrocities committed by Turkish forces as well as showcase some of the leisurely splendor of Constantinople (Instanbul) in those final hoary days before the world was lit aflame. Much to my chagrin, however, I was only recently able to give this film my attention.... Read More
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Sweet, Sweet Nostalgia: Reaction and “Reform” throughout History

“Make America Great Again.” These four words have become one of the most infamous phrases in the English language since the successful presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, and with good reason. How do we define great? Who thought things were great? If we aren’t great now, when were we great, and when did we stop being so? Far from originating with Trump, this idea, that somehow the United States has lost its way from the glory of its just-out-of-reach past, has taken hold in the psyche of certain disaffected sections of its population. Though this reactionary sentiment may sound dissonant to the modern ear, it actually fits quite smoothly into a much longer historical tradition of cloaking nostalgic navel-gazing in terms of reform and progress.... 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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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
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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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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