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Episodic History: Kevin’s Picks

Continuing with our series on eras and events that we think would make for great television, I’ve pulled together my own list of ideas. Make sure to check out Bryan’s and Ryan’s as well. The English Civil War—Enough with the Tudors! The rest of English history needs some love. Imagine a sprawling Game of Thrones-type […]... Read More
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Overflowing with Detail: Jacqueline Rider’s Jacobites

At some point in their high school European History course, American students are inevitably taught the series of events set in motion by the English Civil War. Culminating in the Glorious Revolution and the signing of the English Bill of Rights, these events are presented as pillars of shared Anglo-Saxon principles of liberty and jurisprudence before the course moves on to other things. Rarely covered is the fallout from that revolution, which would span seventy years and three open conflicts within the now-British state. I myself only learned of these risings through my undergraduate coursework and, realizing I still had never delved into the exact history of the most prominent of them, that of 1745 (or “the ‘45”), I sought to rectify the situation. The book that came to hand was Jacqueline Riding’s Jacobites, and while I could not has asked for better, it was certainly not without its trials.... Read More
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Astounding Leniency: The American Civil War and Comparative Rebellions

Months ago, Kevin wrote a speculative piece reflecting on the implications of nineteenth-century concepts of ‘just war’ and their relevance today. Much of this discussion was centered around the American Civil War and the quandary of pursuing a war sharply so as to conclude it swiftly and limit suffering in the long run. Ideas of just war in the American Civil War were further complicated by the fact that the enemies of the United States government were fellow Americans. Or were they? The conflict was at its core a rebellion, and so perhaps it would be useful to consider the Union’s actions (and inactions) in that context. What were contemporary attitudes towards rebellions? What actions were considered justified in their suppression? And, most importantly, why did the United States pursue or not pursue those actions against its own rebellious citizens?... Read More
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Not Quite A Balance: Jeff Shaara’s The Frozen Hours

The Shaara name should be familiar to any concerned with American military history. Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels and its onscreen adaptation, Gettysburg, have had a great impact both on the public memory of the Battle of Gettysburg and the interest of legions of budding historians of all ages in the American Civil War more generally. The strength of Shaara’s prose lay in his ability to tell history as a personal story through the viewpoints of the players involved, and his son Jeff has made a career applying this same style to a number of the United States’s wars. Indeed, my own fascination with more modern history came as a result of reading not The Killer Angels but The Glorious Cause, Jeff’s novel on the Revolutionary War. His most recent work covers events during the Korean War, focusing on the plight of the 7th Marine Division around the Chosin Reservoir in 1950.... Read More
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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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Towards a More Total War: ‘Gentlemanly Warfare’ and the Rise of the Nation-State

One of the most controversial figures in the history of the United States is William Tecumseh Sherman. For his direction of a single campaign in the fall and early winter of 1864, Sherman has been reviled by nigh-half the country while providing military historians endless fodder for debating the origins of the philosophy of ‘total war.’ Even and perhaps especially for his detractors, Sherman’s strategy of destroying (supposedly) non-military and civilian resources is seen as somehow original, a new and innovative way of waging war that would come to dominate the twentieth century. There’s only one problem with that conventional wisdom: it’s patently ridiculous.... Read More
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Humanity in the Face of Annihilation: Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk

Last Thursday we had the great pleasure of seeing Christopher Nolan’s new film Dunkirk. Chronicling the events of Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of British and French forces from the beaches of Dunkirk after they had been beaten and surrounded by German forces in 1940, Dunkirk is a war movie unlike any we have yet seen.... Read More
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Civil War, Round One: Holger Hoock’s Scars of Independence

As some of you may have noticed in my recent post on American empire, I’m not exactly a fan of the exceptionalist myths that we Americans replace our history with. I became excited, then, when I learned about a new book from the J. Carroll Amundsen Professor of British History at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Holger Hoock. Entitled Scars of Independence, Hoock’s work is meant for both public and academic audiences and seeks to restore the central and ubiquitous position of violence to our sanitized and whitewashed tradition of the American Revolution. Reminding his readers that the war was just as much a civil war between Patriots and Loyalists as it was a struggle for independence, Hoock embarks on a grisly account of just how bitterly the Revolutionary War was waged.... 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