Civil Wars

A Perplexing Journey: David Armitage’s Civil Wars

I first encountered David Armitage through a textbook in my Atlantic World survey course sophomore year at Gettysburg. That book, The Declaration of Independence: A Global History, is an outstanding bit of intellectual history. I still have it, packed away in a box somewhere, and it was likely one of the first inspirations for my eventual turn away from American history and towards a larger perspective. When I learned of Armitage’s 2015 history of comparative civil wars, it was only a matter of time before I got around to reading it. While its contents didn’t quite live up to my expectations, Civil Wars certainly proved as intellectually stimulating as I’ve come to expect from this distinguished historian.... Read More
outlaw-king-poster-social

Trying to Do Too Much: Netflix’s Outlaw King

Billed alternately as a somewhat-sequel to the classic movie Braveheart and “the real story of Scottish independence that Braveheart didn’t tell you,” (the two aren’t mutually exclusive, by the way), Netflix’s new film featuring Chris Pine as the titular character, Robert the Bruce, has been on my radar for a while. Being somewhat familiar with this period of Scottish history, or at least, familiar enough to want to see the Bruce portrayed historically faithfully, I dove right in after it dropped on Netflix November 9. While I enjoyed Outlaw King well enough, one thing it most certainly is not is historically accurate.... Read More
1920px-American_troops_in_Vladivostok_1918_HD-SN-99-02013 1280px-Izmir15Mayis1919 King_Faisal_I_of_Syria_with_King_Abdul-Aziz_of_Saudi_Arabia_in_the_mid-1920s

False Anniversary: Prolonging the Great War Centennial

Last Sunday marked the hundred year anniversary of the First World War Armistice between the Allied Powers and Germany, last of the Central Powers to ask for a cessation of hostilities. Surely by now you’ve all seen countless articles and media commemorating the end of the Great War, and 2018 will almost assuredly mark the end of any official centennial observances. They’re all wrong.... Read More
Spartacus Caesar-and-Crassus

Man Pain for Days: Starz’s Spartacus

This show has been on my watch list for years. Ironically, it was originally recommended to me by my brother (I’m usually the one mentioning historical shows he might like). I had heard other rumblings and knew something of its reputation since, but only recently, when I saw that it had made it onto Netflix, did I finally get around to checking it out. Spartacus both delivered on everything I had heard and surprised me with its gratifying attention to historical detail.... Read More
Master of Rome

Cracks in the Marble: Netflix’s Roman Empire: Master of Rome

While we are officially historians of the modern era, faithful readers of this blog will know that both of us are part-time Classicists, and so it should come as no surprise that we welcomed a new season of Netflix’s docudrama series Roman Empire (previously thought to be only a miniseries) with open arms. The new season, subtitled Master of Rome, focuses on the life and exploits of the most famous Roman, one of the most famous people, to ever live: Julius Caesar. We must confess, we were both a bit disappointed by this. The decision to focus Roman Empire’s first season, Reign of Blood, on Commodus at least expanded upon a lesser known figure; Julius Caesar is in no need of such a treatment. Indeed, if you’re looking for an excellent dramatic adaptation of Caesar’s rise and fall, HBO’s Rome will scratch that itch all day. Unfortunately, our disappointment with Roman Empire’s second season did not end with its choice of subject matter.... Read More
Gibraltar

In Defense of the Rock: Roy and Lesley Adkins’s Gibraltar

We Americans have a habit of paying closer attention to our own history than what goes on in the outside world. Perhaps we can be forgiven for doing so concerning our own war for independence, but even here there is a global story to be told that does not regularly appear in American narratives of the conflict. France and, later, Spain’s entry into the conflict on the side of the fledgling United States made the American Revolution a successor of the Seven Years War, known as the French and Indian War in America, with fighting taking place wherever the map bore British red. Roy and Lesley Adkins bring one of these disparate theaters to light after years of neglect. The American Revolution occasioned one of the longest, fiercest battles in British history as the Empire fought to maintain control over one of its tiniest outposts: the Rock of Gibraltar.... Read More
tripartite

What’s in a World War, Part II: Let’s Shorten This Up a Bit

Years ago, in my American Military History class at Gettysburg, our professor began our foray into the Second World War with a curious statement: World War II should actually be considered to have begun in 1937, with the Japanese invasion of China. While normally I would applaud efforts to reduce Eurocentrism and emphasize global connections, I internally scoffed at what I then (and still) considered to be a ridiculous notion. The whole world was not at war yet, only Japan and China; how then could you say that the Second World War had begun? This memory was called to mind recently as Kevin and I reflected on how we define world wars and global conflicts in modern history (found here), and my thoughts began to wander to other, less orthodox, conclusions. Though Kevin and I did not exactly agree on a precise definition of a ‘world war,’ we did agree on three general criteria. Perhaps the most fundamental of these, and the starting point of our debate, was the scope of fighting. A world war is typically a war in which fighting occurs across most of the world. We even later reach the conclusion that this fighting must be connected in some way, as part of a single, cohesive war effort. I was led further and further towards a daring question: if Japan and China’s isolated fight should not count as the beginning of World War II, why should Britain, France, and Germany’s?... Read More
Chinese_workers_WWI_munitions_factory_(14591966191) 37230602_1803856599694057_4564733642105946112_n safe_image

What’s in a World War? A Point/Counterpoint

What if I told you that what we know as the First and Second World Wars should really be known as the Second and Third, or even the Third and Fourth? Our habit of only identifying the conflicts that took place from 1914-18 and 1939-45 as ‘world wars’ betrays a modern arrogance, that somehow the world only reached the capacity for global conflicts recently, within the last century. My own work with imperial history has indicated that this is far from the truth... Read More
Confederate_Batteries_2

The Why of It All, Part II: The Worst Question in History

“What was the American Civil War about?” This question has bedeviled American historians and, indeed, the American public for over a century. Its battlefields are endless, and, for many people, the answer that you provide determines whether you are a Knowledgeable or Ignorant Person. I’ve certainly been involved in more than my share of skirmishes, so it probably isn’t a surprise to hear me say that I hate this question. What may be surprising, however, is my reasoning.... Read More
Troy - Fall of a City generics troy-fall-of-a-city

Faithful, with Liberties: Netflix’s Troy: Fall of a City

Regular readers of Concerning History will be well aware of my affinity for the swords and sandals genre. It should come as no surprise, then, that my ears perked up when learning of the new South African/Netflix miniseries Troy: Fall of a City. My previous review of the movie Troy (found here) acknowledged that that film took great liberties with its ancient source material, sometimes for the best. An epic poem on the level of the Iliad is impossible to adapt in only two or so hours; would 8 hours of television serve better to bring Homer’s vision to the screen? The answer turned out to be both emphatically yes and emphatically meh.... Read More