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Yet Another One? History Channel’s Knightfall

About a decade ago, Dan Brown’s super popular The Da Vinci Code launched (or perhaps just made evident) a tidal wave of historical conspiracy media, and no subject received more attention than the Knights Templar. From countless books to inclusion as the villainous secret organization of Assassin’s Creed fame, the Templars’ mysterious origins and dramatic fall from grace have inspired authors the world over. At first, I was wary of this trend when I heard that the History Channel’s first new show in the style of their wildly successful Vikings would be a Templar drama known as Knightfall. To make matters worse, the show would take place in precisely the era most favored by conspiracy theorists (the final collapse of the crusader states and persecution of the order, 15 years later). While Game of Thrones or Vikings it is not, Knightfall did manage catch my interest and entertain me through its campy drama and ringing pronouncements of medieval faith.... 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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Byzantium Ascendant: Peter Frankopan’s The First Crusade

The Crusades have justifiably proven a focus of attention for both academics and the general public for centuries. It can hardly be avoided in Western history curriculums, yet Peter Frankopan's analysis of their instigation is not one commonly encountered. The First Crusade is, above all else, a rehabilitation for the character of Emperor Alexios Komnenos, ruler of the Byzantine Empire and, according to Frankopan, the man responsible for both the existence and the successes of the host of Christendom.... 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