The Grimy, British Forest Gump: BBC’s Peaky Blinders

Chalk another one up to my brother. It’s a rare event that he’s the one to recommend a period piece to me, but when he does, I make sure to watch. I’d heard about Peaky Blinders for a while, but had just never got around to it. That changed this summer, and now that the most recent (fifth) season has aired on Netflix, what better time is there to review this riveting, historically-saturated series?... Read More

Bernie’s Cold War: To Yaroslavl with Love

Last week, amid the upheaval in the Democratic primaries, the New York Times published a piece on the 1988 efforts of then-mayor Bernie Sanders to establish Burlington as a sister city to Yaroslavl in the Soviet Union. The headline, “As Bernie Sanders Pushed for Closer Ties, Soviet Union Spotted Opportunity,” sounds sinister, but the article […]... Read More
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A Terrible Beauty: Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing

When I think of the Troubles, I remember the summer I spent abroad in Ireland. I think about visiting Belfast, where we went forth from the world-class Titanic Museum to explore streets filled with murals, flags, and “peace walls” still dividing Catholics and Protestants. I think of the walking tour we took in Derry, the […]... Read More

American Horror Story: AMC’s The Terror: Infamy

Last spring, Heather and I enjoyed AMC’s somewhat nontraditional historical horror/thriller The Terror (reviewed here on Concerning History). Its story of a British expedition trapped north of the Arctic Circle, struggling to survive the elements even while stalked by a malevolent spirit, was gripping and, well, weird. We were excited to hear that it had been renewed for a second season, though of course this new batch of episodes would need to cover a different story. On board for an anthology series of different period piece horror stories, Heather and I eagerly tuned in.... Read More

Well, Yeah: Jeffrey A. Auerbach‘s Imperial Boredom

British Empire? Check. My alma mater’s world renowned university press? Check. As soon as I unwrapped Imperial Boredom over Christmas 2018, I was psyched. Here was an aspect of empire seldom talked about: what did it feel like to experience the British Empire on the ground? To settle it, to govern it, to sail or soldier for it? Unexciting, apparently, judging from the title. Of all the books Heather gave me that Christmas, I saved it for last as my grand finale. It was certainly nice to return to familiar material, though in keeping with its subject matter, it perhaps wasn’t as grand a finale as I had originally hoped.... Read More

Behind the Scenes: D’Weston Haywood’s Let Us Make Men

When Heather gave me a couple books that lay outside my normal historical comfort zone this past Christmas, I figured I would ease myself into reading them, lest I lose my motivation and let them fall by the wayside. The first, Aberration of Mind (reviewed here on Concerning History), was familiar in period, if not in subject; this second book, however, was familiar in neither. My fascination with history usually peaks around 1914, and it could certainly use much more non-European focus, I must admit. I was thus both excited and somewhat hesitant to begin reading an academic monograph on the role of the black press in the civil rights movements of the 20th century. Luckily, however, the outcome of reading D’Weston Haywood’s Let Us Make Men was precisely what you want to happen in this situation: strangely compelling and profoundly illuminating.... Read More

Lost in Translation: The Impossible Task of Complete Historical Accuracy

Spring 2019 saw yet another HBO phenomenon in the form of the docudrama miniseries Chernobyl (and you can look for a review coming next year to Concerning History). The recent Emmys briefly brought Chernobyl back into the spotlight, and I heard again a complain I’d first encountered back when the show originally aired: there were no accents or, rather, there were the wrong accents. No character in the show speaks with a Russian or Ukrainian accent, and indeed most of the actors stick to their native British cadence. This sorely bothered some people, to the point of even not being able to finish the show. Heather and I, however, were not bothered by it in the slightest. It’s a rare moment when internet podcasters are on the side of historical accuracy and I am not, so why this seemingly uncharacteristic shift in perspective?... Read More

Judging the Past: The Historian as Ethicist

As I was reading Alexander Watson’s Ring of Steel for an upcoming Concerning History Book Club post, I was struck by how easily perspective can be lost when dealing with subjects that we find morally unacceptable. Ring of Steel offers a different portrait of the war than most English-language accounts. Early on, Watson argues that […]... Read More

Constructing the Ivory Tower: Julie Reuben’s Making of the Modern University

Among its critics within and beyond the Ivory Tower, academia carries a reputation for looking critically at anything except itself. That criticism isn’t always fair, but it’s also not unfounded. When I recently read The Making of the Modern University by Julie Reuben, I found the account to be an important corrective to academia’s problem of not knowing its own history. Even though I have an interest in this history and have come across parts of it before, I was surprised at how wrong I was in my understanding of the history of higher ed, and especially the transformations it underwent between the mid-1800s and the mid-2000s.... Read More
The Pacific

Captivating, but Repetitive: HBO’s The Pacific

I realize that I am long overdue on this one. I’ve always meant to get around to watching HBO’s follow-up to their acclaimed miniseries Band of Brothers, but The Pacific inexplicably kept slipping down further on my watch list. Finally, this past winter, my brother sent me his DVDs of the series, and I no longer had any excuse to wait. As a huge fan of Band of Brothers (despite some of its odd interpretive choices), I was eager to dive into a similar telling of a different theater of the Second World War. As Heather and I made it through the miniseries’ ten episodes, however, I found myself both satisfied and left wanting.... Read More