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States’ Rights, the Slave Power Conspiracy, and the Causes of the Civil War

Recently I was reading a textbook’s account for the cause of the Civil War. This textbook was attempting to wade a middle ground between the two major arguments for the Civil War’s cause: slavery (and its extension) versus states’ rights. While the States’ Rights argument is definitively refuted by the primary document evidence of the secession crisis, this textbook made the following claim: that the issue of states’ rights was connected to the right of individuals in the states’ to own slaves. I decided that such a claim was worth some thoughtful debunking.... 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

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

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

Testing Whether That Nation Can Long Endure: America as a Failed State during the Civil War?

A few weeks ago, I was reading a chapter in an edited compilation (that will soon be reviewed here on Concerning History) when I came across an odd argument. As the author was introducing the concept of the United States as an overseas empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, he noted the similarities between America’s own independence from Great Britain and the myriad recently-decolonized countries of Africa and Asia. Chief among these was a shared struggle for economic self-sufficiency apart from the mother empire, yet the metaphor was pursued still further to claim that the United States during its civil war in 1860s was a ‘failed state.’ I immediately disagreed, and sent Francis a message gauging his reaction. What follows was his (edited) response.... 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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Holding the Moral High Ground: Reflections on Just War Then and Now

I recently picked up a copy of D. H. Dilbeck’s 2016 book A More Civil War. Given my interests in the intersection of the morality and consequences of war, it seemed like something worth reading. As I went through it, I found myself not thinking of it just as a work of Civil War scholarship but also as reflection upon the enormous shifts in our understanding of moral warfare since the 19th century.... Read More

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
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Mud, Blood, and Grunting: FX’s Taboo, Season 1

When I first got wind that Tom Hardy was working with FX and the BBC to produce a gritty television series involving the East India Company and the African slave trade, I was ecstatic. That show, named Taboo, concluded its first season in February after eight episodes, and despite it not being quite what I expected, I certainly enjoyed watching it.... Read More