Unpacking Civil Wars: A Proposal in Terminology

I recently had the mixed pleasure of reading David Armitage’s Civil Wars: A History in Ideas (reviewed last week here on Concerning History). While I enjoyed certain, ironically more modern, sections, I was endlessly frustrated by Armitage’s refusal to provide a definition of civil war, even a personal one to refine his own material. His assertion that civil war somehow ‘began’ with the Romans only makes sense in terms of the idea of some kind of conflict different and more terrible than others; countless civil wars are attested to in antiquity before Rome’s own. At first, I resisted any kind of specific definition. If war is what happens when two powers find themselves unable to attain their goals through compromise and resort to force (my own paraphrase of the famous line from Clausewitz), then a civil war is when the same happens within a state. The more I reflected and silently argued, however, the more I realized there may indeed be a way to further classify the term.... Read More
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

Wars of the Poppies: Politics and Remembrance

For the first time in a few years, I didn’t wear a poppy for Remembrance Day. The choice may seem odd given the significance of this year’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. But over the past few years, I’ve felt increasingly conflicted about wearing the symbol, which I feel has a political […]... Read More