Crucible of the World: Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads

From its main title, one could be forgiven for assuming this book to be simply a regional study of Central Asia. Yet Peter Frankopan's The Silk Roads: A New History of the World begins with much loftier goals. Having been fascinated with the history of the broadly-defined Middle East in his youth, Frankopan asserts that he is here to posit a new method of understanding history: one that challenges European narratives of inevitable triumph and restores Central Asia to its place as the fulcrum of world history. In the process, however, The Silk Roads delivers simultaneously more and much, much less than Frankopan promises.... Read More

Sirens’ Song: The Appeal of Romanticism in History

During our launch week this past Wednesday, we had fun producing a list of some of our favorite ‘guilty pleasure’ history movies. These were movies that we each love, but as historians we cannot help but squirm at the liberties taken with the history or time periods that they portray. Many, if not most, of our criticisms came from certain stylized depictions of the past that, while appealing, range from not quite accurate to horribly misrepresentative. Indeed, these romanticized portraits of history prove so appealing that even as we criticized our chosen films we reaffirmed our affection for them. Never ones to let such cognitive dissonance go unchallenged, we decided to pry a bit further. Why can romanticism in history be so alluring, even to those trained to resist its charms?... 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
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We Love Them Anyway: Guilty Pleasures in TV and Film

Movies and TV shows are often some of the most compelling ways to tell history, but they’re not without cost. Along with every attempt at bringing history to the big or small screen comes the critiques of historians, and we’ve certainly analysed our fair share. Whether it’s structural inaccuracy or imperfections in costuming and makeup, the challenge of adapting the mess of history to a neat narrative always results in some problems, minor or glaringly major. Despite these flaws, however, there are some stories you can’t help but enjoy. Here we’ve assembled a taste of our historical guilty pleasures: movies and TV shows we fully recognize have problematic relationships with the history they portray, but we love them all the same.... Read More
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Pillars of History: Perils of Escapism

With everything that has happened since last November, many Americans, including those of us with a serious interest in history, have at times felt tempted to bury our heads in a good book and to tune out the world around us. This is understandable, and hardly unique to historians. Many have reacted differently, of course, and now more than ever feel called to engage in their civic community. We all deal with things in our own ways. Even as some feel called to confront the challenges of the day, others may look to the apparent comfort of the past and immerse themselves in it. In moderation, this is no problem. However, if treating the past as our private getaway becomes our primary way of engaging with it, we leave ourselves exposed to the traps of mythology, irrelevance, and storybook simplicity.... Read More

Pillars of History: The Dangers of Cherry-picking

Anyone who has had the pleasure (and pain) of completing a historical methods course in their lifetime should have already encountered the lesson on the perils of cherry-picking evidence to fit a desired thesis. The problem is the alarming number of history students—and even Masters-level and PhD-level historians—for whom the lesson inexplicably never stuck. Cherry-picking […]... Read More
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Pillars of History: No Time Like the Present

When the classic sci-fi TV show Star Trek first aired in the 1960s, TV commentators at the time praised (or condemned) the show for tackling thorny political and social issues within the context of its futuristic and, admittedly, gaudy plot lines. This, in many ways, reflects what is best about art in any form: it reflects, complicates, and offers new perspectives on the world from which it comes. For the world of science-fiction, and even any other art medium, that is fine and welcomed. When it comes to history, however, reflecting the times of the author in the writing of the past is irresponsible at best and the root of a great deal of misconceptions about the attitudes, beliefs, and culture of the people in the past.... Read More
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Concerning History: An Introduction

We are a new history blog whose goal is to explore historical events and cultural memory in a more casual format. Although all of our writers are serious in their passion for history, we hope that this blog will be only occasionally stodgy. Our founding members are made up entirely of recent college graduates who have come to miss the academic stimulation of the history classroom and so have banded together to ford the post-graduation chasm and keep the spirit of historical learning alive and well in their everyday lives.... Read More