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Failure of Analysis: Philip Bobbitt’s The Shield of Achilles

I’ve been fascinated with the small European wars of the eighteenth century for years, and writing my post from earlier this week on the continuity of total war (found here) gave me an occasion to brush up on that material. Accordingly, I dove into Philip Bobbitt's formidable work The Shield of Achilles. Integrating the studies of state formation and warfare in early modern and modern Europe, Bobbitt demonstrates the ways in which states’ constitutions (here the general manner in which a state is constituted and governed, not the formal documents) and strategies (loosely, the manner in which states wage war, rather than specific war plans) are intertwined, influencing each other and driving to different forms and heights. In so doing, Bobbitt attempts to argue for a certain dialectical view of history that, incidentally, results in his own prognostications on where the modern world is headed and the ways in which we should respond. I have never simultaneously loved and despised a book more in my life.... 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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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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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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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