The Geopolitics of the American Revolution

War

Jeremy Black
University of Exeter

Cross-posted from the American Review of Books, Blogs, and Bull

The image is clear, the message obvious. Across a sun-kissed meadow, dappled with shade, lines of British soldiers, resplendent in red, move slowly forward, while brave American Patriots crouch behind trees and stone walls ready to blast these idiots to pieces. Frequently repeated on page and screen, the image has one central message: one side, the American, represented the future in warfare, and one side, the American, was bound to prevail. Thus, the war is readily located in both political and military terms. In each, it apparently represents the triumph of modernity and the start of a new age: of democracy and popular warfare. The linkage of military service and political rights therefore proved a potent contribution. Before these popular, national forces, the ancien régime, the old order, with its mercenaries, professionals, and, at sea, unmotivated conscripts, was bound to crumble, and its troops were doomed to lose. Thus, the political location of the struggle, in terms of the defining struggle for freedom, apparently helps locate the conflict as the start of modern warfare, while, considering the war in the latter light, helps fix our understanding of the political dimension. Definition in terms of modernity and modernization also explains success, as most people assume that the future is bound to prevail over the past.

In making the war an apparently foregone conclusion, this approach has several misleading consequences. First, it allows most historians of the period to devote insufficient attention to the fighting and, instead, to focus on traditional (constitution-framing) and modish (gender et al) topics, neglecting the central point about the importance of war in American history: no victory, no independence, no constitution, no newish society. Second, making the British defeat inevitable gravely underrates the Patriot (not American, as not all Americans fought the British) achievement. Third, making British defeat inevitable removes the sense of uncertainty in which contemporaries made choices. Continue reading “The Geopolitics of the American Revolution”

1917: The Year of the Century

A painting of Lenin addressing the crowd upon his return to Russia during the Russian Revolution. Museum of Political History.

Jeremy Black
University of Exeter

Cross-posted from American Review of Books, Blogs, and Bull

1917 was a key year in a crucial decade. This was a decade of change, or, rather, transformation; of the destruction of what became old orders; and of the replacement of existing currents and practices.

From the perspective of 2017, possibly the most important changes of the decade came in 1910-11: alongside revolutionary crises in Mexico, Cuba, and Haiti was the crisis and overthrow of the Manchu dynasty in China. There had been a series of such crises in China before, of course notably with the Ming in the 1640s, and the Mongols in the 1360s. What made the crisis of the 1910s different, however, was the replacement of a dynasty by a republic and the difficulty, for the new system, of establishing its legitimacy. Indeed, China atomised, so that, by 1925, it was divided between a large number of independent polities, most of which were under the thumb of warlords and expressions of their power. China’s fragmentation made it vulnerable to Japanese invasion and, ultimately, to a destructive civil war and communist revolution in 1949. Continue reading “1917: The Year of the Century”

Air Power and the Modern World

Air Power Black

Jeremy Black
University of Exeter

“We were very young in those days” is the most weighty phrase near the beginning of The Case of the Constant Suicides, a novel by the Anglo-American detective writer John Dickson Carr. Published in 1941, this novel begins in London on September 1 1940, just before the heavy German air attacks on the city had started: “An air-raid alert meant merely inconvenience, with perhaps one lone raider droning somewhere.” By 1941, as today, the experience of bombing was very different, although not as different as it was to be by the end of the war in 1945. Bombing by 1945 had become a key experience of urban life, both in Europe and in East Asia. Refracted through the media and the arts, the civilian experience has to be remembered as a human backdrop to the discussions about effectiveness and practicality.

Air power has played a key role in the military history of the last century, both independently and within land and sea conflicts. Air power has been particularly important at the tactical and operational levels. It has also been seen as a strategic tool, even if bringing this element to fruition has proved very difficult; and difficult, moreover, for the range of states that have sought to pursue this means. The debates about what air power can provide have taken considerably different directions based on whether the army was the dominant service and the degree to which the air force was independent. These issues raise questions not only about how best to present the history of air power, but also concerning its past and present rationale and relevance. Continue reading “Air Power and the Modern World”

What Was Distinctive About the Eighteenth-Century Local Press?

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Richard Toye
History Department, University of Exeter

Follow on Twitter @RichardToye

In today’s world, news is everywhere: news communicated by the press, by other media bodies, and increasingly by anyone who wants to share something with the world via Facebook or Twitter, or via a blog like this one! In this new series of podcasts, based around our Third Year undergraduate module on News, Media, and Communication (HIH 3617) Exeter academics will examine how different societies transmit and receive information. The relationship between oral, visual, and written modes of communication, and the impact of technological advances upon news and the media will be examined, as will debates about the role of the media within societies.

What was the relationship between news, media, and state power; and between money, power, and the press? How did the media influence the conduct of war? What impact did the invention of printing, or of television, have on the communication of news, and how did the new technologies interact with social and cultural assumptions to shape what was considered to be ‘news’?

In this video, Professor Jeremy Black and Professor Richard Toye discuss the role of the local and regional press in Britain.

The Deep History of Tory Foreign Policy

blackJeremy Black
University of Exeter

With a UK general election due this May, domestic issues may well be to the forefront of argument but, at a time of international instability, it is important that foreign policy issues should not be neglected. I have just edited a collection of essays on Conservative foreign policy thinking and I would argue that consideration of the historical perspective should be used to inform current debates. Continue reading “The Deep History of Tory Foreign Policy”

Contesting History with Jeremy Black

Cross-posted from Bloomsbury History

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We all know that history isn’t just about facts; any historical event can be interpreted in a variety of different ways, and these interpretations can be used intentionally to serve particular interests and agendas – agendas which are often set by the state. A national museum, for example, is not a neutral presentation of that country’s history, but its exhibitions are constructed in order to present that nation’s historical self-image. The Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore – although housed in a building named in honour of Queen Victoria – makes little reference to British imperial rule, instead aiming to reconnect Singapore with its Chinese and Indian cultures of origin. Similarly, Hanoi’s National Museum of Vietnamese History provides a defence of Communism and independence by providing accounts of French imperial cruelty.

These and many other examples from across the globe are discussed in Jeremy Black’s latest book, Contesting History: Narratives of Public History, which we are proud to have published this month. The book provides an authoritative guide to the positive and negative applications of the past in the public arena and what this signifies for the meaning of history more widely. Continue reading “Contesting History with Jeremy Black”