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Historiography and the uses of history in the Second French Empire?

Historiography and the uses of history in the Second French Empire?

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The Pre(r)amble: Over the past few months I've gotten interested in the development of history and historiography in Victorian England, and how the Victorians saw themselves reflected in and contrasted by past societies. I've read several historians who claimed that the nineteenth was a uniquely 'historical' century, in which rising secularism, the idea of progress, and other broad trends pushed historical explanations to the fore, so that they increasingly supplied the "just-so" stories of the new generations. To give an example, as the British Empire reached its height there was a resurgence of interest in ancient Rome, which was used to analyze, support, and critique British imperialism.

This in turn got me wondering if there were comparable movements in nearby European countries during the second half of the 19th century, particularly in France and the German states. For this question I'd like to ask about the French.

My Question: Was there a comparable interest in history in France during the later half of the nineteenth century? If so, what periods were of interest, and what uses were they put to? Did history make itself known in art and literature? Was it used by or against the French state, or in relation to French colonialism?

Important Caveats:

  • I suspect that history in France under Napoleon III would have been dominated by the shadows of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Revolution, so I want to be clear that I'm asking about how the French used history outside of their own living memory. An answer about, say, the attitude of the Second French Empire to the French Revolution, is not what I'm looking for. But if there were French historians commenting on the Revolution in the guise or context of, say, Greek classicism, that would be a perfect fit.

  • Finally, though I've used Second French Empire as a conveniently narrow frame of reference, I would be very happy with answers that touched on the adjoining Second and Third Republics. My main area of interest is the second half of the nineteenth century.

Of the three countries, Britain, France, and Germany, France was the least dynamic economically in the late 19th century, and hence the least likely to hearken back to Rome or other classical civilizations.So yes, there were intellectual movements in France but they were in no way comparable to those in England. Put bluntly, they had the least to celebrate or brag about.

The "least dynamic" part can be seen in an abridged version of the table of past GDPs for the three countries.

GDP in billions of 1990 USD in the chosen years and countries: (country) | 1820 | 1870 | 1913 Britain | 36 | 100 | 225 France | 36 | 72 | 144 Germany | 27 | 72 | 237

France's GDP was equal to Britain's in 1820, but had fallen way behind by 1870, and even further behind by 1913. France's GDP was equal to Germany's in 1870, but Germany was growing faster, having started off a lower 1820 base, and was way ahead of France's and comparable to Britain's, by 1913. So the two better candidates for the Roman style historiography were Britain and Germany.

Then why Britain? For a couple of reasons. Britain had been occupied by Rome and Germany (mostly) had not. (It is noteworthy that Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" was written by a British and not a German. Also, Britain had a large maritime empire with plenty of overseas trade. In this one regard, France was more like Britain than was Germany, which was landlocked and "continental.

In other respects, Germany was more "British" than the British. Germany had the faster growth rate, starting out from a lower 1820 base. Germany also had a capital goods economy, and outdid the British in iron and steel, chemicals, and electricity. In these regards, both Britain and Germany were more like the practical, engineering oriented Rome than was France.

AS discussed in another post, France had a more luxury goods oriented economy, one that the Romans might have considered "effete." It drew its inspiration from the luxury trade of the Middle East and Mediterranean, at least during the Middle Ages, and later from the Italian Renaissance. But neither Italy nor the Ottoman Empire could provide the "anchor" to France that Rome did to Britain.

Put another way, Britain celebrated Rome in the 19th century because it was then the "new Rome." France was closer to (non-Roman) Italy, Greece, and the Ottoman empire than to Rome, but those three empires were (at the time) much less prestigious than Rome. Also, France was never occupied by any of them in the way that Rome occupied Britain, so France's connection to those countries was more tenuous than Britain's to Rome.

Decolonization and the French of Algeria: Bringing the Settler Colony Home

Algeria was colonised and departmentalised by the French in the 19th century, and by 1954 around a million Algerians of European origin lived in the settler colony. Following a seven-and-a-half-year war against France, Algeria officially became independent in 1962. However, decades later, France continues to be tied to its colonial past through the communities who left the new nation for the metropole. That is to say, almost all of the European settlers and Jews, as well as some of the Algerians who had supported the French army during the War of Independence.

Sung-Eun Choi traces the intertwined and multi-layered narratives of these communities as they left Algeria at the end of the war and analyses their repatriation to France from political, economic and cultural perspectives. This was an intricate and far from coherent process which spanned five decades and continues to be a matter for political and historical debate. By looking at the decolonisation of Algeria through the repatriation of the settler colony, Choi’s work adds to the increasing interest amongst historians to look beyond the official interpretation of decolonisation as an equivalent to ‘flag independence’ and instead consider the continuities and discontinuities across the colonial and post-colonial periods.(1) This has been a fruitful line of enquiry in recent years. Notably, in his seminal work, Todd Shepard argues that Algerian independence led to the remaking of France. The late colonial idea of a multicultural France was abruptly brought to an end in 1962 and, Shepard argues, France was remade as a unified, metropolitan and, importantly, monocultural nation. Choi endeavours to set her work apart from other studies of this subject, including Todd Shepard’s work, in two ways. Her approach covers a much longer period of time, whereas Shepard discusses the rapatriés (repatriates) in France only as late as 1963. Choi is therefore able to compare the different Fifth Republican governments’ approaches to repatriation from de Gaulle to Chirac. Choi’s book also considers the ongoing role of the repatriates and children and grandchildren in continuing these political debates. However, she does not attempt to analyse the ways in which these policies were put into practice, something which Yann Scioldo-Zürcher’s work already discusses.(2) Rather, Choi seeks to discuss the ideas at the core of these debates and how these shaped this complex narrative of the installation and integration of the repatriates into French society.

The title of the book includes a number of contested terms. Firstly, the term decolonisation. Choi does not really go into much depth on the issues which surround this term, which is probably understandable considering arguments about the nomenclature of decolonisation would and, in fact, do fill several other books.(3) Choi nevertheless moves away from the line of thought that ‘flag independence’ signified decolonisation and instead argues that the ongoing disputes and negotiations about repatriation demonstrate that decolonisation remains incomplete.

Secondly, the idea of the ‘French of Algeria’ is ambiguous. The people of European origin who inhabited Algeria have had many names over the years – colons, settlers, ‘Algériens’, Europeans of Algeria, French of Algeria and later pieds noirs – to name but a few. The quantity of these names is most likely due to the nature of the community, which did indeed begin as settlers or colonisers from various parts of Europe, but they were all granted French citizenship in 1889. However, these were not the only communities to be naturalised. The majority of Jews were granted citizenship in 1870 under the Crémieux Decrees (apart from under the Vichy regime when they were stripped of their nationality until the Provisional Government reinstated it). The Jewish population of Algeria has also been a rich area of research in recent years, particularly with the work of Sarah Stein who has shed light on the case of the Sephardic Jews in Algeria. The Journal of North African Studies also produced a special issue on the Jews and French colonialism in Algeria, extracting the narratives of a community which has often been overlooked in the past.(4) Moreover, some Muslims were naturalised, until all Algerians became French citizens in 1958.

Choi focusses her arguments, for the main part, on the French who were of European origin and counted for an overwhelming majority of the one million who fled Algeria for France at the end of the Algerian War in 1962. However, the later chapters necessarily involve the Muslim communities who were also repatriated, namely the harkis who fought for France during the Algerian War and also considers the context of the Muslim migrants who sought work in France and later brought their families to settle in the metropole. Surprisingly, although she conducted her own original research including an analysis of some Jewish testimonies located in the American Jewish Archives, Choi’s arguments about the case of the Jews appear to mainly be limited to the narrative of their exodus and their settlement in France in the early years of repatriation. Discussion of repatriation politics beyond the 1960s mainly focusses on the narratives of the pied noir, harkis and Algerian Muslim communities.

There are many other ambiguous terms which are integral to this subject, including rapatriates, harkis, etc which Choi does very well to juggle without letting the necessary explanations detract from the central narrative. This narrative is essentially the legal and political journey of repatriation for these French citizens from 1962 until the present day. It also depicts the evolution of the French government’s narrative, which began as an ‘ingathering of previously displaced citizens’ following the dismantling of France’s empire in Africa and Asia. Choi’s overall focus is on the ‘repatriation politics’ of the French who left Algeria. By this phrase she means the French government’s attempts to relinquish French sovereignty in Algeria and attach a French identity to those of European origin from Algeria, something which had been a crucial point of contention, if not unthinkable during the war. This feat was also later attempted with regards to the harkis and their descendants, an attempt which carried multiple complications, particularly in terms of the blurred understandings of the difference between repatriates and ‘immigrants’.

In terms of the public debate on repatriation, the Fifth Republic shifted its policy from an early courting of the rapatriés, which sought, among other things to discourage radical political engagement, to publicly avoiding the subject in the 1960s and early 1970s, to more recently deliberately publicising its ‘embrace’ of the repatriates. Nevertheless, Choi highlights that this shift in the government’s attitude was not reflected in the laws concerning the repatriates. Furthermore, Choi uses this book to cement her argument that a combination of the repatriates’ lobbying and the French government’s eagerness to assert the ‘national belonging’ of the repatriate citizens led to a more positive attitude towards these peoples. In contrast, those who found themselves in France and had supposedly sought the independence of Algeria, that is to say, the Muslim migrant workers and their families, were more negatively regarded.(5)

Many of the repatriates who fled Algeria, left behind not just their memories of ‘better times’ but also their property their homes, their belongings and their businesses. With Ben Bella’s 1962 decrees nationalising ‘vacant’ lands and preventing non-Algerian nationals from owning land, repatriates witnessed from afar the seizure of their property. What enraged them more was the French government’s refusal to intervene. In fact, during the decade following the Algerian War, many in France viewed the repatriates unfavourably as those who had abandoned Algeria and had chosen France. The Gaullist government prioritised Franco-Algerian relations and cooperation over the demands of the repatriates. Instead they preferred to ‘reinstall’ these peoples and draw a curtain over the past. Even the social upheaval of May ’68 did little to aid the repatriates’ cause, in fact de Gaulle saw it as further proof of the need to lay the Algerian past to rest. However, the repatriates had no such intentions. Coupled with their sorrow and resentment for having been forced to abandon their lives in Algeria, numerous pieds noirs began to react aggressively towards the government. Many joined associations and mobilised movements to build a ‘repatriate electorate’ that was less easy to ignore. However, not all of these associations were radical and anti-Gaullist. Several focussed on lobbying the government for financial support, and others, such as the Cercle Algérianiste and the Centre d’études Pied-Noir, sought to safeguard the pied noir history and culture.(6)

While depicting the struggle of these displaced peoples, Choi simultaneously analyses the ever more complex situation for the other repatriates, namely the harkis who became embroiled in disputes over their situation in comparison with that of the Algerian migrant workers. These peoples were often pitted against each other by officials and political parties, most notably the Communist Party (PCF). Despite the government’s attempts to cast the harkis in a more positive light, often reducing them to being ‘loyal patriots’ of the French state, little was done to improve their situation in real terms, which led to increasing discontent amongst their youth from the 1970s onwards.(7) Choi suggests that government efforts to improve these circumstances were as a result of the mobilisation of harkis youth.

Considering the complex and multi-faceted nature of this subject, a clear explanation of the historical and sociological context of the end of the Algerian war is necessary. However, because of this need to set the scene, Choi’s stronger analytical arguments are found in the later chapters when she begins to discuss the evolution of the repatriation laws within the context of immigration and the diplomatic tensions between France and Algeria during the 1960s and 1970s. Choi argues that the 1970s marked a turning point in the Fifth Republic’s attitude towards the repatriates, most particularly during Valery Giscard d’Estaing’s presidency. Here, she suggests, the state increased their efforts to appease the repatriates, including the harkis, regardless of their success. Under increasing pressure from repatriate lobby groups to resolve their concerns, the state attempted to rewrite its Algerian past, rather than to continue to simply bury it.

Choi then speeds up the timeline of her narrative, tracing the socialist government of the 1980s and 1990s and its relations with the pieds noirs and the French Muslims of ‘repatriate origins’. She argues that under Mitterrand attempts were made to resolve the issues of the previous decades and thereby improve relations with the still-to-be-fully-integrated community. In doing so the state re-wrote the Algerian past to celebrate the careers and lives of the repatriates, even seeking to emphasise the cultural identity of the French Muslims by preserving their so-called ‘right to difference’. This was quite a U-turn from the colour-blind Republican values of old. But, as Choi highlights, ultimately this was of little significance to the harkis. The government’s only concrete plans to execute this idea of ‘right to difference’ were actually based on a vague attempt to ‘educate’ the French (Français de souche) people about the harkis’ culture. Choi traces the evolution of subsequent generations and how their attitudes changed with the evolving nature of immigrants from North Africa, from just workers, to later whole families. However, Choi notes that the socialists attempted to build a unified France with multiple ethnically and culturally distinct repatriate communities. Nevertheless, this attempt fell short and in fact the government reverted to their previous stance of selectively interpreting history and leaning on the repatriate origins of these peoples in order to distinguish certain French Muslims from others of Maghreb ethnicities.

The later chapters discuss the memorialisation of the repatriate narrative by the rapatriés themselves, particularly the pieds noirs. These accounts tend to reflect an intense nostalgia for past lives and an idealised Algeria. The study of nostalgia, in particular pied noir nostalgia, is a well-established research area.(8) Choi uses certain narratives to demonstrate how repatriate perspectives were reinserted into the national past and were used to capture a wider public interest in ‘what might have been’ had Algeria remained French. In doing so, she argues, certain repatriates were able to detach their histories from the controversies of the past and begin to be regarded more favourably in the French public eye. Choi also takes a closer look at the historiography of this subject, in particular the works of Eric Savarèse, author of The Invention of the Pieds-noirs (2002) and Jeannine Verdès-Lerous.(9) According to Choi, both of these scholars focus on the interactions between the different ethnic and cultural groups in colonial Algeria and identify the complexities, but lack critical historical analysis in their readings of key literature such as Albert Camus and Jean Pélégri, and are therefore unable to successfully deconstruct colonialism. It would be interesting to read a more expansive analysis from Choi on how she would more directly approach explaining or deconstructing colonialism through interpretations of colonial and even post-colonial literature. For this study, however, it is clear that Choi seeks to note the often contrasting perspectives of politicians and scholars in their readings, through a variety of lenses, of history and the French colonial past in Algeria.

Choi finishes her monograph by bringing the reader almost up to date with reflections on the repatriation politics of two of the latest regimes, Chirac and Sarkozy. Here she observes that there has been more of a consistency in political approaches to the repatriate communities. These approaches she dubs ‘double politics’, which indeed they have been, with attempts to both appease the repatriate communities, as witnessed with the debates on recognising ‘positive’ colonialism in the early 2000s, and also continue to seek diplomatic and economic cooperation with Algeria.

With this ambitious book, Choi has been able to draw together the multiple historical narratives of the repatriates from Algeria and analyse their political and legal integration into France during the last four decades. Moving away from focussing on collective amnesia, Choi rather centres her work on what she terms the ‘politics of remembering’. Furthermore, she adds to the continued discussions on the terminology behind the end of empire and the never-ending questions revolving around what precisely was decolonisation and whether or not it has actually come to pass. Students and established scholars alike will find this a useful resource, particularly in terms of studying decolonisation and unravelling the complex narrative of the repatriation of the French and Algerians following the end of the French colonial period.

Historiography and the uses of history in the Second French Empire? - History

A challenging resource which gets students to engage with differing interpretations of the French Revolution. They consider the views of Thomas Carlyle, Lynn Hunt, Alphonse Aulard, Alfred Cobban, Albert Mathiez and William Doyle to gain insight into how interpretations change over time. The activity comes with teaching notes and further reading suggestions to help you put it into action.

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Atlantic Slavery and the Slave Trade: History and Historiography

Over the past six decades, the historiography of Atlantic slavery and the slave trade has shown remarkable growth and sophistication. Historians have marshalled a vast array of sources and offered rich and compelling explanations for these two great tragedies in human history. The survey of this vibrant scholarly tradition throws light on major theoretical and interpretive shifts over time and indicates potential new pathways for future research. While early scholarly efforts have assessed plantation slavery in particular on the antebellum United States South, new voices—those of Western women inspired by the feminist movement and non-Western men and women who began entering academia in larger numbers over the second half of the 20th century—revolutionized views of slavery across time and space. The introduction of new methodological approaches to the field, particularly through dialogue between scholars who engage in quantitative analysis and those who privilege social history sources that are more revealing of lived experiences, has conditioned the types of questions and arguments about slavery and the slave trade that the field has generated. Finally, digital approaches had a significant impact on the field, opening new possibilities to assess and share data from around the world and helping foster an increasingly global conversation about the causes, consequences, and integration of slave systems. No synthesis will ever cover all the details of these thriving subjects of study and, judging from the passionate debates that continue to unfold, interest in the history of slavery and the slave trade is unlikely to fade.



From the 16th to the mid- 19th century , approximately 12.5 million enslaved Africans were forcibly embarked on slave ships, of whom only 10.7 million survived the notorious Middle Passage. 1 Captives were transported in vessels that flew the colors of several nations, mainly Portugal, Britain, France, Spain, and the Netherlands. Ships departed from ports located in these countries or their overseas possessions, loaded slaves at one or more points along the coast of Africa, and then transported them to one or more ports in the Americas. They sailed along established trade routes shaped by political forces, commercial partnerships, and environmental factors, such as the winds and sea currents. The triangular system is no doubt the most famous route but in fact nearly half of all slaves were embarked on vessels that traveled directly between the Americas and Africa. 2 Africans forced beneath the decks of slave vessels were captured in the continent’s interior through several means. Warfare was, perhaps, the commonest, yielding large numbers of captives for sale at a time. Other methods of enslavement included judicial proceedings, pawning, and kidnappings. 3 Depending on the routes captives traveled and the ways they were captured, Africans could sometimes find themselves in the holds of ships with people who belonged to their same cultures, were from their same villages, or were even close relatives. 4 None of this, however, attenuated the sufferings and appalling conditions under which they sailed. Slaves at sea were subjected to constant confinement, brutal violence, malnutrition, diseases, sexual violence, and many other abuses. 5

Upon arrival in the Americas, Africans often found themselves in equally hostile environments. Slavery in the mining industry and on cash crop plantations, especially those that produced sugar and rice, significantly reduced Africans’ life expectancies and required owners to replenish their labor force through the slave trade. 6 By contrast, slave systems centered on less intensive crops and the services industry, particularly in cities, ports, and towns, often offered enslaved Africans better chances of survival and even the possibility of achieving freedom through manumission by purchase, gift, or inheritance. 7 These apparent advantages did not necessarily mean that life was any less harsh. Neither did the prospect of freedom significantly change slaves’ material lives. Few individuals managed to obtain manumission and those who did encountered many other barriers that prevented them from fully enjoying their lives as free citizens. 8 In spite of those barriers, slaves challenged their status and conditions in many ways, ranging from “quiet” forms of resistance—slowdowns, breaking tools, and feigning illness at work—to bolder initiatives such as running away, plotting conspiracies, and launching rebellions. 9 Although slavery provided little room for autonomy, Africans strove to maintain or replicate aspects of their cultures in the Americas. Whenever possible, they married people with their same backgrounds, named their children in their own languages, cooked foods using techniques, styles, and ingredients similar to those found in their motherlands, composed songs in the beats of their homelands, and worshipped ancestral spirits, deities, and gods in the same fashion as their forbears. 10 At the same time, slave culture was subject to constant change, a process that over the long run enabled enslaved people to better navigate the dangerous world that slavery created. 11

This overview may seem rather free of controversy, but it is in fact the result of years of debates, some still raging, and research conducted by generations of historians of slavery and the slave trade. Perhaps no other historical fields have been so productive and transformative over such a short period of time. Since the 1950s, scholars have developed and refined new methods, created new theoretical models, brought previously untapped sources to light, and posed new questions that shine bright new light on the experiences of enslaved people and their owners as well as the social, political, economic, and cultural worlds that they created in the diaspora. Although debates about Atlantic slavery and the slave trade go back to the era of abolition, historians began grappling in earnest with these issues in the aftermath of World War II. Early scholarship focused on the United States and tended to articulate views of slavery that reflected elite sources and perspectives. 12 Inspired by the US civil rights movement, second-wave feminism, and wider global decolonization campaigns, the 1960s and 1970s witnessed the rise of approaches to the study of slavery rooted in new social history, which aimed to understand slaves as central historical actors rather than mere victims of exploitation. 13 Around the same time, a group of scholars trained in statistical analysis sparked passionate debates about the extent to which quantitative assessments of slavery and slave trading effectively represented slaves’ lived experiences. 14 To more vividly capture those experiences, some historians turned to new or underutilized tools, particularly biographies, family histories, and microhistories, which provided windows into local historical dynamics. 15 The significance of the penetrating questions that these fruitful debates raised has been amplified in recent decades in response to the growing influence of transnational and Atlantic approaches to slavery. Atlantic frameworks have required the gathering and analysis of new data on slavery and the slave trade around the world, encouraging scholars from previously underrepresented regions to challenge Anglo-American dominance in the field. Finally, the digital turn in the 21st century has provided new models for developing historical projects on slavery and the slave trade and helped democratize access to once inaccessible sources. 16 This article draws on this rich history of scholarship on slavery and the slave trade to illustrate major theoretical and interpretive shifts over time and raise questions about the future prospects for this dynamic field of study.

Models of Slavery and Resistance

While each country in the Americas has its own national historiography on slavery, from a 21st-century perspective, it is hard to overestimate the role that US-based scholars played in shaping the agenda of slavery studies. Analyses of American plantation records began around the turn of the 20th century . Early debates emerged in particular over the conditions of slavery in the American South and views of the relationship between slaves and owners. Setting the foundation for these debates in the early- 20th century , Ulrich Bonnell Phillips offered an extraordinarily romanticized vision of life on the plantation. 17 Steeped in open racism, his work compared slave plantations to benevolent schools that over time “civilized” enslaved peoples. Conditioned by the kinds of revisionist interpretations of Southern slavery that emerged in the era following Reconstruction, Phillips saw American slavery as a benign institution that persisted despite its economic inefficiency. His work trivialized the violence inherent in slave systems, a view some Americans were eager to accept and, given his standing among subsequent generations of slavery scholars, one that prevailed in the profession for half of a century.

Early challenges to this view had little immediate impact within academic circles. That primarily black intellectuals, working in or speaking to white-dominated academies, offered many of the most sophisticated objections helps explain the persistence of Phillips’ influence. In the face of looming institutional racism, several scholars offered bold and fresh interpretations that uprooted basic ideas about the slave system. Over his illustrious career, W. E. B. Du Bois highlighted the powerful structural impediments that restricted black lives and brought attention to the dynamic ways that African Americans confronted systematic exploitation. Eric Williams, a noted Trinidadian historian, took aim at the history of abolition, arguing that self-interest—rather than humanitarian concerns—led to the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire. Melville Herskovitz, a prominent white American anthropologist, turned his attention to the connections between African and African American culture. 18 Though many of these works were marginalized at the time they were produced, this scholarship is rightfully credited with, among other things, shining light on the relationship between African and African American history. Turning their attention to Africa, scholars discovered a variety of cultural practices that, they argued, shaped the black experience under slavery and in its aftermath. Even those scholars who challenged or rejected this Africa-centered approach pushed enslaved people to the center of their analyses, representing a radical departure from previous studies. 19

Similarly, works focused on the history of slavery and the slave trade in other regions of the Americas, especially those colonized by France, Spain, and Portugal, were often overlooked. The economies of many of these regions had historically depended on slave labor. The size of the captive populations of some of them rivaled that of the United States. Moreover, they had been involved in the slave trade for much longer and far more extensively than any other region of what became the United States. Researchers in Brazil, Cuba, and other countries often noticed these points. 20 Some of them, like the Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre, received training in the United States and produced significant research. However, because they published mainly in Portuguese and Spanish, and translations were hard to come by, their work had little initial impact on Anglo-American scholarship. The few scholars who did realize the importance of this work used it to draw comparisons between the Anglophone and non-Anglophone worlds of slavery, highlighting differences in their patterns of colonization and emphasizing the distinctive roles that Catholicism and colonial legal regimes played in shaping slave systems across parts of the Americas. A greater incidence of miscegenation and slaves’ relative accessibility to freedom through manumission led some scholars to argue that slavery in the non-Anglophone New World was milder than in antebellum America or the British colonies. 21

In the United States, the dominant narratives of American slavery continued to emphasize the absolute authority of slave owners. Even critics of Phillips, who emerged in larger numbers in the 1950s and vigorously challenged his conclusions, thought little of slaves’ abilities to effect meaningful change on plantations. Yet they did offer new interpretations of American slavery, as the metaphors scholars used in this decade to characterize the system attest. Far from Phillips’ training school, Kenneth Stampp argued that plantation slavery more appropriately resembled a prison in which enslaved people became completely dependent on their owners. 22 Going even further, Stanley M. Elkins compared American slavery to a concentration camp. 23 The experience of slavery was so traumatic that it stripped enslaved people of their identities and rendered them almost completely helpless. American slavery, in Elkins’ view, turned African Americans into infantilized “Sambos” whose minds and wills came to mirror those of their owners. While such studies drew much needed attention to the violence of plantation slavery, they all but closed the door on questions about slave agency and cultural production. Emphasizing slave autonomy ran the risk of minimizing the brutality of slave owners, and for those scholars trying to overturn Phillips’s vision of American slavery, that brutality was what defined the plantation enterprise.

It took the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s to move slavery studies in a significantly new direction. Driven by their hard-fought battles for political rights at home, African Americans and others whom the civil rights movement inspired added critical new voices and perspectives that required a rethinking of the American past. Scholars who emerged during this period largely rejected the overwhelming authority of the planter class and instead turned their attention to the activities of enslaved people. Slaves, they found, created spaces for themselves and exercised their autonomy on plantations in myriad ways. While they recognized the violence of the slave system, historians of this generation were more interested in assessing the development of black society and identifying resistance to plantation slavery. Far from the brainwashed prisoners of their owners, enslaved people were recast as producers of dynamic and enduring cultures. One key to this transformation was a more careful analysis of what occurred within slave quarters, where new research uncovered the existence of relatively stable—at least under the circumstances—family life. Another emphasized religion as a tool that slaves used to improve their conditions and forge new identities in the diaspora. The immediate post-civil rights period also saw scholars renew their interest in Africa, breathing new life into older debates about the origins and survival of cultural practices in the Americas. 24

What much of the scholarship in this period shared was the idea that no matter how vicious the system, planter power was always incomplete. Recognizing that reality, slaves and their owners established a set of ground rules that granted slaves a degree of autonomy in an attempt to minimize resistance. Beyond mere brutality, slavery thus rested on unwritten but widely understood slave “rights”—Sundays off from plantation labor, the cultivation of private garden plots, participation in an independent slave economy—that both sides negotiated and frequently challenged. This view was central to Eugene Genovese’s magisterial book, Roll Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made , which employed the concept of paternalism to help make sense of 19th-century Southern slavery. 25 Paternalist ideology provided owners with a theoretical justification for slavery’s continuation in the face of widespread criticism from Northern abolitionists. Unlike in the urban North, Southerners claimed, where free African Americans faced deplorable conditions and had little social support, slave owners claimed to take better care of their “black and white” families. Slaves also embraced paternalism, though toward a different end: doing so enabled them to use the idea of the “benevolent planter” to their own advantage and make claims for incremental improvements in slaves’ lives. Slavery, Genovese argued, was thus based on the mutual interdependence of owners and slaves.

The degree of intimacy between slaves and owners that paternalism implied spoke to another question that occupied scholars writing in the 1960s and 1970s: given the violence of the slave system, why had so few large-scale slave rebellions occurred? For Phillips and those whom he influenced, the benevolent nature of Southern slavery provided a sufficient explanation. But undeniable evidence of the violence of slavery required making sense of patterns—or the seeming lack—of slave resistance. Unlike on some Caribbean islands, where slaves far outnumbered free people and environmental and geographic factors tended to concentrate the location of plantations, conditions in the United States were less conducive to widespread rebellion. Yet slaves never passively accepted their captivity. The literature on resistance during this period deemphasized violent forms of rebellion, which occurred infrequently, and reoriented scholarship toward the variety of ways that enslaved people challenged the domination of slave owners over them. Having adjusted their lenses, historians found evidence of slave resistance seemingly everywhere. Enslaved people slowed the paces at which they worked, feigned illnesses, broke tools, and injured or let escape animals on plantations. Such “day-to-day” resistance did little to overturn slavery but it gave some control to captives over their work regimes. In some cases, slaves acted even more boldly, committing arson or poisoning those men and women responsible for upholding the system of bondage. Resistance also took the form of running away, a strategy that long preceded the famous Underground Railroad in North America and posed unique problems in territories with unsettled frontiers, unfriendly environmental terrain, and diverse indigenous populations into which fleeing captives could integrate. 26

This shift in scholarship toward slave agency and resistance was anchored in the creative use of sources that had previously been unknown or underappreciated. Although they had long recognized the shortcomings of Phillips’s reliance on records from a limited number of large plantations, historians struggled to find better options, particularly those that shed light on the experiences and perspectives of enslaved people. Slave biographies provided one alternative. In the 1970s, John Blassingame gathered an exhaustive collection of runaway slave accounts to examine the life experiences of American slaves. 27 Whether such biographies spoke to the majority of slaves or represented a few exceptional black men became the subject of considerable disagreement. Scholars who were less trusting of biographies turned to the large collection of interviews that the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration conducted with former slaves. 28 Though far more numerous and representative of “typical” slave experiences, the WPA interviews had their own problems. Would former slaves have been comfortable speaking freely to primarily white interviewers about their lives in bondage? The question remains open. Equally pressing was the concern over the amount of time that had passed between the end of slavery and the period when the interviews were conducted. Indeed, some two-thirds of interviewees were octogenarians when federal employees recorded their stories. Despite such shortcomings, these sources and the new interpretations of slavery that they supported pushed scholarship in exciting new directions. Slaves could no longer be dismissed as passive victims of the plantation system. The new sources and approaches humanized them and reoriented scholarship toward the communities that slaves made.

Across the Atlantic, scholars of Africa began to grapple in earnest with questions about slavery, too. Early contributions to debates over the role of the institution in Africa and its impact on African societies came from historians and anthropologists. One strand of disagreement emerged over whether slavery existed there at all prior to the arrival of Europeans. This raised more fundamental questions about how to define slavery. The influential introduction to Suzanne Miers and Igor Kopytoff’s edited volume, Slavery in Africa: Historical and Anthropological Perspectives , took pains to distinguish African slavery from its American counterparts. It rooted slavery not in racial difference or the growth of plantation agriculture but rather in the context of Africa’s kin-based social organization. According to the coauthors, the institution’s primary function in Africa was to incorporate outsiders into new societies. 29 So distinctive was this form of captivity that Miers and Kopytoff famously deployed scare quotes each time they used the word “slavery” in order to underscore its uniqueness.

Given their emphasis on incorporation, the process by which enslaved people over time became accepted insiders in the societies into which they were forcibly introduced, and their limited treatment of the economically productive roles that slaves played, Miers and Kopytoff came in for swift criticism on several fronts. Neo-Marxists were particularly dissatisfied. Claude Meillassoux, the prominent French scholar, responded with an alternative vision of slavery in Africa that highlighted the violence that was at the core of enslavement. 30 That violence made slavery the very antithesis of kinship, which to many scholars invalidated Miers and Kopytoff’s interpretation. Meillassoux and others also pointed to the dynamic economic roles that slaves played in Africa. 31 Studies in various local settings—in the Sokoto Caliphate, the Western Sudan, and elsewhere—made clear that slavery was a central part of how African societies organized productive labor. 32 This reality led some scholars to articulate distinct slave, or African, modes of production that, they argued, better illuminated the role of slavery in the continent. 33

In addition to these deep theoretical differences, one factor that contributed to the debates was the lack of historical sources that spoke to the changing nature of slavery in Africa. Documentary evidence describing slave societies is heavily concentrated in the 19th century , the period when Europe’s presence in Africa became more widespread and when colonialism and abolitionism colored Western views of Africans and their social institutions. To overcome source limitations, academics cast their nets widely, drawing on methodological innovations from anthropology and comparative linguistics, among other disciplines. 34 Participant observation, through which Africanists immersed themselves in the communities they studied in order to understand local languages and cultures, proved particularly valuable. 35 Yet the enthusiasm for this approach, which for many offered a more authentic path to access African cultures and voices, led some scholars to ignore or paper over its limitations. 36 To what extent, for example, did oral sources or observations of social structures in the 20th century reveal historical realities from previous eras? Other historians projected back in time insights from the more numerous written sources from the 19th century , using them to consider slavery in earlier periods. 37 Those who uncritically accepted evidence from such sources—whether non-written or written—came away with a timeless view of the African past, including as it related to slavery. 38 It would take another decade, during which the field witnessed revolutionary changes to the collection and analysis of data, until scholars began to widely accept the fact that, as in the Americas, slavery differed across time and space.

The Cliometric Debates

Around the same time that some scholars in the Americas were pushing enslaved people to the center of slavery narratives, a separate group of academics trained in economics began steering the focus of studies of slavery and the slave trade in a different direction. While research on planter power and slave resistance allowed historians to infer broad patterns of transformation from a limited collection of local records, this new group of scholars turned this approach upside down. They proposed to assess the underlying forces that shaped slavery and the slave trade to better contextualize the individual experiences of enslaved people. This big-picture approach was rooted in the quantification of large amounts of data available in archival sources spread across multiple locations and led ultimately to the development of “cliometrics,” a radically new methodology in the field. Two works were particularly important to the establishment of this approach: Philip Curtin’s The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census and Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman’s Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery . 39

Philip Curtin’s “census” provided the first quantitative assessment of the size, evolution, and distribution of the transatlantic slave trade between the 15th and 19th centuries . Previous estimates of the magnitude of the transatlantic trade claimed that it involved somewhere between fifteen and twenty million enslaved Africans—or in some cases many times that amount. 40 However, upon careful examination, Curtin found that such estimates were “nothing but a vast inertia, as historians have copied over and over again the flimsy results of unsubstantial guesswork.” 41 He thus set out to provide a new figure based on a close reading of secondary works that themselves had been based on extensive archival research. To assist in this endeavor, Curtin enlisted a technology that had only recently become available to researchers: the mainframe computer. He collected data on the number of slaves that ships of every nation involved in the traffic had embarked and disembarked, recorded these data on punch cards, and used the computer to organize the information into time series that allowed him to make projections for the periods and branches of the traffic for which data were scarce or altogether unavailable. Curtin’s findings posed profound challenges to the most basic assumptions about the transatlantic traffic. They revealed that the number of Africans forcibly transported to the Americas was substantially lower than what historians had previously assumed. Curtin also demonstrated that while the British were the most active slave traders during the second half of the 18th century , when the trade had reached its height, the Portuguese (and, after independence, Brazilians as well) carried far more enslaved people during the entire period of the transatlantic trade. 42 Furthermore, while the United States boasted the largest slave population by the mid- 19th century , it was a comparatively minor destination for vessels engaged in the trade: the region received less than 5 percent of all captive Africans transported across the Atlantic. 43

Curtin’s assessment of the slave trade inspired researchers to flock to local archives and compile new statistical data on the number and carrying capacity of slaving vessels departing or entering particular ports or regions around the Atlantic basin. Building on Curtin’s solid foundation, these scholars produced dozens of studies on the volume of various branches of the transatlantic trade. Virtually every port that dispatched slaving vessels to Africa or at which enslaved Africans were disembarked in the Americas received scholarly attention. What emerged from this work was an increasingly clear picture of the volume and structure of the Atlantic slave trade at local, regional, and national levels, though the South Atlantic slave trade remained comparatively understudied. 44 Historians of Africa also joined in these discussions, providing tentative assessments of slave exports from regions along the coast of West and West Central Africa. 45 The deepening pool of data that such research generated enabled scholars to use quantitative methods to consider other aspects of the transatlantic trade. How did mortality rates differ on slave vessels from one national carrier to another? 46 Which ports dispatched larger or smaller vessels and what implications did vessel size have for participation in the slave trade? 47 Which types of European commodities were most highly sought after in exchange for African captives? 48 As these questions imply, scholars had for the first time approached the slave trade as its own distinctive topic for research, which had revolutionary consequences for the future of the field.

Time on the Cross had an effect on slavery scholarship that was similar to—indeed, perhaps even greater than—that of Curtin’s, especially among scholars focused on the antebellum US South. Inspired by studies that challenged the view of plantation slavery as unprofitable, Fogel and Engerman, with the help of a team of researchers, set out to quantify nearly every aspect of that institution in the US South, from slaves’ average daily food consumption to the amount of cotton produced in the US South during the antebellum era. 49 Consistent with the cliometricians’ approach, Fogel and Engerman listed ten findings that “contradicted many of the most important propositions in the traditional portrayal of the slave system.” 50 Their most important—and controversial—conclusions were that slavery was a rational system of labor exploitation maintained by planters to maximize their own economic interests that it was growing on the eve of the Civil War and that owners were optimistic rather than pessimistic about the future of the slave system during the decade that preceded the war. 51 Further, the authors noted that slave labor was productive. “On average,” the cliometricians argued, a slave was “harder-working and more efficient than his white counterpart.” 52

While cliometrics made important contributions to the study of slavery and the slave trade, the quantitative approach came in for swift and passionate criticism. Curtin’s significantly lower estimates for the number of enslaved Africans shipped across the Atlantic were met with skepticism some respondents even charged that his figures trivialized the horrors of the trade. 53 Although praised for its revolutionary interpretation, which earned Fogel the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1993 , Fogel and Engerman’s study of the economics of American slavery was almost immediately cast aside as deeply flawed and unworthy of serious scholarly attention. Critics pointed not only to carelessness in the authors’ data collection techniques but also to their mathematical errors, abusive assumptions, and insufficient contextualization of data. 54 Fogel and Engerman, for example, characterized lynching as a “disciplinary tool.” After counting the number of whippings slaves received at one plantation, they concluded that masters there rarely used the punishment. They failed to note, however, the powerful effect that such abuse had on slaves and free people who merely watched or heard the horrible spectacle. 55 More generally, and apart from these specific problems, critics offered a theoretical objection to the quantitative approach, which, they argued, conceived of history as an objective science, with strong persuasive appeal, but which silenced the voices of the individuals victimized by the history of slavery and the slave trade.

Nevertheless, the methodology found followers among historians studying the history of slavery in other parts of the Atlantic. B. W. Higman’s massive two-volume work, Slave Populations of the British Caribbean, 1807–1834 , remains an unparalleled quantitative analysis of slave communities on the islands under British control. 56 Robert Louis Stein’s The French Sugar Business in the Eighteenth Century also makes substantial use of cliometrics and remains a valuable reference for students of slavery in Martinique and Saint Domingue (present-day Haiti). 57 But outside of the United States, nowhere was cliometrics more popular than Brazil, where scholars of slavery, including Pedro Carvalho de Mello, Herbert Klein, Francisco Vidal Luna, Robert Slenes, and others, applied it to examine many of the same issues that their North American counterparts did: rates of profitability, demographic growth, and economic expansion of slave systems. 58 Africanists also found value in the methodology and employed it as their sources allowed. Patrick Manning, for instance, used demographic modeling to examine the impact of the slave trade on African societies. 59 Philip Curtin compiled quantitative archival sources to analyze the evolution of the economy of Senegambia in the era of the slave trade. 60 Jan Hogendorn and Marion Johnson traced the circulation of cowries, the shell money of the slave trade, noting that “of all the goods from overseas exchanged for slaves, the shell money touched individuals most widely and often in their day-to-day activities.” 61

In many ways, the gap between quantitative and social and cultural approaches to slavery and the slave trade that opened in the 1970s has continued to divide the field. Concerned that cliometrics sucked the dynamism out of interpretations of the slave community and reduced captives to figures on a spreadsheet, some scholars responded by deploying a variety of new tools to reclaim the humanity and individuality of enslaved actors. Microhistory, an approach that early modern Europeanists developed to recover peasant and other everyday people’s stories, offered one such opportunity. 62 Biography provided another. By reducing its scale of observation and focusing on individuals, families, households, or other small-scale units of analysis, such research underscored the messiness of lived experiences and the creative and often unexpected ways that slaves fashioned worlds for themselves. 63 But such approaches raised a separate set of questions: do biographical accounts reveal typical experiences? In an era when few slaves were literate and even fewer committed their stories to paper, any captives whose accounts survived—in full or in fragments, published or unpublished—were by definition exceptional. Moreover, given the clear overarching framework that decades of quantitative work on the slave trade had developed, one would be hard-pressed to ignore completely the cliometric turn. As two quantitatively minded scholars noted, “it is difficult to assess the significance or representativity of personal narratives or collective biographies, however detailed, without an understanding of the overall movements of slaves of which these individuals’ lives were a part.” 64 While an emphasis on what might be described as the quantitative “big picture” is not by nature antagonistic toward social and cultural historians’ concerns with enslaved people’s lived experiences, the two approaches offer different visions of slavery’s past and often feel as if they sit on opposite ends of the analytical spectrum.

Women, Gender, and Slavery

In the roughly two and a half decades that followed the major interpretive shifts that Kenneth Stampp and Stanley Elkins introduced into scholarship on slavery, the field remained an almost exclusively male one. With rare exceptions, men continued to dominate the profession during this period their work rarely probed with any degree of sophistication the experiences of women in plantation societies. While second-wave feminism inspired women to enter graduate programs in history in larger numbers beginning in the 1960s, it took time for published work on women’s history, at least as it related to slavery, to appear in earnest. Revealingly, it was not until 1985 that the Library of Congress created a unique catalog heading for “women slaves.” Yet in the three decades since then, women’s (and later gendered) histories of slavery have been published at an ever-increasing pace. Scholars in the 21st century would struggle to take seriously books written about slavery that fail to show an appreciation for the distinctive experiences of men and women in captivity or more generally across plantation societies.

Several forces worked against the production of studies on enslaved women. If sources detailing slaves’ lives are in general sparse, evidence on women slaves is particularly spotty. Deborah Gray White’s pioneering work, Aren’t I a Woman: Female Slaves in the Plantation South , the first book-length study of enslaved women, triumphantly pieced together fragments of information from Federal Writers’ Project interviews with scattered plantation records to breathe life into the historiography of black women. It revealed the powerful structures that served to constrain enslaved women’s lives in the 19th century United States. As White famously concluded: “Black in a white society, slave in a free society, women in a society ruled by men, female slaves had the least formal power and were perhaps the most vulnerable group of Antebellum Americans.” 65 Yet publishers and academic peers did not immediately take seriously work focused on women slaves. White noted, for example, how colleagues in her department warned her that she would be unlikely to earn tenure writing about such a topic. This environment was hardly the type of nurturing one required for sustained research. 66

Though it was an uphill struggle, an influential group of scholars gradually developed a framework for understanding slavery’s realities for women. Early work focused on the foundational tasks of recovering female voices and using them to challenge standard narratives of the plantation system. It made clear the complex and multifaceted roles of women captives—as mothers, wives, fieldworkers, and domestics—and in the process reshaped scholarly understanding of the dynamics of the plantation enterprise. Social relations within plantation households commanded particular attention. Some scholars emphasized bonds between black and white women whose lives, they argued, were conditioned by a shared and oppressive patriarchal culture. Catherine Clinton, for example, characterized white mistresses as “trapped” within plantation society. “Cotton was King, white men ruled, and both white women and slaves served the same master,” she argued. 67 While she sympathized with the plight of plantation mistresses, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, another leading figure of American women’s history, offered a contrary view of gendered relations within Southern households, one that highlighted division. Far from sharing common interests with enslaved women, mistresses clearly benefitted from slavery’s continuation. Their status as white and elite took priority over the bonds of womanhood. 68

The first sustained studies of women’s resistance to slavery also appeared in the 1980s. The historiographical pivot toward day-to-day resistance, which more effectively revealed the sophisticated ways that enslaved Africans and their descendants challenged their captivity, also opened a window of opportunity to view women as disruptors of the slave system in their own right. No longer dismissed as, at most, timid supporters of male-led revolts, women were in this period redefined as “natural rebels” who exploited white perceptions of female docility for their own benefit. Enslaved women, for example, were not generally chained onboard slave vessels, which gave them greater opportunities to organize revolts. Those few women who worked in privileged positions within plantation households took on responsibilities that gave them unique access to white families and exposed them to white vulnerabilities. Cooks could theoretically poison their owners, a threat that seemed all too real given the world of violence that underpinned the plantation. And while the coercive realities of slavery rooted every sexual relationship between white men and black women in violence, some scholars pointed to the possibility that women slaves who endured such abuse saw marginal improvements in their material circumstances or the prospects for their children. 69

Within a decade of the publication of Deborah White’s book, scholarship began to shift away from analyses of women and toward investigations of the worlds that men and women made together under slavery. Scholars of Africa brought valuable insights into this issue, drawing on decades of careful research into local constructions of gender and, in particular, the gendered division of labor within Africa. Women, Africanists illustrated, performed many of the most important tasks in agricultural regimes across the continent. 70 Some historians argued that it was their physical rather than biological roles that led slave owners in Africa to prefer and retain female captives, challenging earlier rigid emphases on women’s childbearing capacities. 71 These polarized debates eventually gave way to local and more nuanced analyses that revealed the complex range of contributions that enslaved women made to African societies: Women had children that increased the sizes of households they cultivated and marketed crops that fed and enriched kingdoms and other less centralized societies they served as bodyguards to local elites and they even bought, retained, and traded their own captives. 72 If slavery in Africa was widespread, it was precisely because women had such wide-ranging productive and reproductive value.

These insights had wider implications for the study of the slave trade and the Atlantic World. African conceptions of gender conditioned the supply to Europeans of men and women captives along the coast, illustrating the close relationship between gender issues and economic concerns. 73 Gendered identities that emerged in Africa were adapted and transformed in the Americas depending on demographic, economic, or cultural concerns. 74 Whereas in low-density slave systems, African women and their descendants might follow work regimes that resembled those of their homelands, the gendered division of labor in large slave societies often more closely reflected European attitudes toward women and work. 75 Grappling with such complex realities required historians to dig into local records across a staggering variety of geographic settings. It was in that context that scholars began to broaden their horizons and embrace an increasingly Atlantic orientation—a trend that mirrored broader changes in studies on slavery and the slave trade in the 1990s. 76

The Atlanticization of Slavery Studies

It may seem redundant to identify a shift toward the Atlanticization of slavery studies. Enslaved Africans, after all, were brought to the Americas from across the Atlantic. How, then, could these studies be anything but Atlantic? The reality is that historians have generally looked at the institution through rather parochial eyes, as something limited by regional, national, or cultural boundaries. There were several early and noteworthy exceptions to this trend. Indeed, calls for studies to look at the societies surrounding the ocean as an integral unit of analysis date as far back as the late 1910s. Several scholars took up that call, the most notable perhaps being Fernand Braudel in his 1949 masterpiece, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II . 77 However, in an increasingly polarized world, the idea faced significant resistance and obstacles. Following World War II, Atlanticization could be easily read as a stand-in for imperialism or westernization. It was only toward the end of the Cold War that historians were able to move past these ideological barriers and understand the value of looking at the Atlantic as “the scene of a vast interaction rather than merely the transfer of Europeans onto American shores,” an interaction that was the result of “a sudden and harsh encounter between two old worlds that transformed both and integrated them into a single New World.” 78

This realization deeply shaped subsequent studies of the history of slavery and the slave trade, some of them reviving earlier debates about cultural continuity and change in the African diaspora. One of the most successful examples to focus on the influence of Africans in shaping slavery on both sides of the ocean is John Thornton’s Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World . In it, Thornton argues that slavery was the only form of “private, revenue-producing property recognized in African law.” 79 Consequently, African political and economic elites had significant leverage over the institution, giving them some control over the transatlantic traffic. Thornton’s argument offered a new logic for African participation in the slave trade while also providing a new interpretation of African culture in Africa and the Americas. Although enslaved Africans came from several different regions and societies, Thornton stresses the similarities between their cultures and languages. Based on research on the traffic’s organization, he notes that slave ships rarely purchased captives in more than one port and that they normally sailed along very specific routes. 80 Such an organization favored the transmission of some of the cultural practices enslaved Africans brought with them to the Americas. Nevertheless, Thornton points out, “slaves were not militant cultural nationalists who sought to preserve everything African but rather showed great flexibility in adapting and changing their culture.” 81 His approach thus emphasized the systematic linkages that the transatlantic slave trade forged while leaving space for creolization within slave communities.

Another important contribution that emphasized cultural transformation was Ira Berlin’s Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America . 82 Looking to identify the first generations of blacks who chartered their descendants’ fate in mainland North America, Berlin located them among a group he called “Atlantic creoles,” people who traced their beginnings to the earliest encounters between Europeans and Africans on the west coast of Africa, but who ultimately emerged from the world that Europe, Africa, and the Americas collectively created. Cosmopolitan by experience or circumstance, familiar with the commerce of the Atlantic, and fluent in its languages and cultures, these individuals laid down the foundations for black life in the New World. 83 They arrived not as Africans desperate to replicate their culture, or flexible to adapt, but rather as profoundly changed individuals. Although they permeated most of the colonial societies of the Americas, Berlin claims that in mainland North America at least they were soon swept away by subsequent generations born under the expansion of large-scale commodity production, which ended the porous slave system of the early years of European and African settlement. 84

Although these were important contributions, the Atlanticization of slavery studies opened many more avenues to understand the experiences of Africans and their descendants during the years of bondage. It allowed for comparisons between Africans’ trajectories with those of other players in the formation of the Atlantic world. Paul Gilroy’s well-known Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness is in a way a precursor, expressing “a desire to transcend both the structures of the nation state and the constraints of ethnicity and national particularity.” 85 Jack P. Greene and Philip D. Morgan’s edited volume, Atlantic History: A Critical Appraisal , views a handful of European nations—Spain, Portugal, Britain, France, and the Netherlands—as creating this new world centered around the Atlantic, but it also places Africans as well as the indigenous populations of the Americas in comparative perspective. 86 One immediate problem with this approach is that it conflates several hundreds of groups, nations, or peoples into a single category, “Africans,” a term that gained traction only as the slave trade expanded and, consequently, recognized by just a fraction of the people it intended to describe.

A more adequate approach, favored by the Atlantic framework of analysis, would focus on specific African regions or peoples. Here historians have made some progress, mainly in the form of edited volumes. Linda M. Heywood’s edited book, Central Africans and Cultural Transformations in the American Diaspora , looks at how Kikongo and Mbundu speakers, often times grouped under designations such as Angola, Benguela, or Congo in places in the Americas as distant from one another as Havana, Montevideo, New Orleans, Recife, and Port au Prince, culturally shaped the African diaspora. 87 Rebecca Shumway and Trevor R. Getz’s volume attempts a similar approach, centered on the societies of precolonial Ghana, mainly the Asante and Fante. 88 Toyin Falola and Matt D. Childs’s book, by contrast, focuses on a single African people, the Yoruba. 89 Not only were they a sizable group forced into the Atlantic, but they also left an indelible mark in several regions of the Americas. Interestingly, the Yoruba started calling themselves as such, that is, through their language name, only years after the transatlantic slave trade had ended, probably as a result of religious encounters leading up to the colonization of Nigeria. 90 During the period of the slave trade, the Yoruba lived divided into a number of states like Oyo, Egba, Egbado, Ijebu, and Ijesa, located in Southwest Nigeria, and were called outside the region by different terms, such as Nagô in Bahia, Lucumí in Cuba, and Aku in Sierra Leone. 91

Not only did the Atlantic approach contribute to the development of new historical frameworks and perspectives, it also encouraged historians to use traditional sources and methods in more creative and interesting ways. In Freedom Papers: An Atlantic Odyssey in the Age of Emancipation , Rebecca J. Scott and Jean Hébrard trace the paper trail that members of the Tinchant family left behind to reconstruct over multiple generations the saga of an African woman and her family from slavery to freedom. 92 In addition to tracing individuals and families, historians have also paid greater attention to cultural practices embedded in traditions of agriculture, healing, and warfare, which were disseminated around the Atlantic during the period of the slave trade. Judith A. Carney, for example, looked at the African origins of rice cultivation in the Americas, connecting particular rice growing regions in Upper Guinea to their counterparts in places like South Carolina in the United States and Maranhão in Bazil James H. Sweet examined the intellectual history of the Atlantic world by following the uses and appropriations of African healing practices from Dahomey to Bahia and Portugal and Manuel Barcia explored the similarities and differences between warfare techniques employed by West African captives, especially from Oyo, in Bahia, and Cuba. 93 Although urban history has a long tradition among historians, most studies have focused on cities and ports in Europe and the Americas. 94 Historians, including Robin Law, Kristin Mann, Mariana Cândido, and Randy Sparks, however, are redressing that imbalance with studies focused on African ports—Ouidah, Lagos, Benguela, and Anomabu—that emerged or expanded during the slave trade era. 95

Finally, although removed from the Atlantic, the very effort of looking at slavery and the slave trade from a broader perspective has influenced studies on these issues in other parts of the world or even within a global framework. Research on the intra-American slave trade has gained a renewed interest with publications like Greg O’Malley’s Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619–1807 . 96 The same could be said of the slave trade in the Indian Ocean with works like Richard Allen’s European Slave Trading in the Indian Ocean, 1500–1850 . 97 One central debate that has recently been revived concerns the relationship between capitalism and slavery. 98 Inspired by Eric Williams’s path-breaking work and, more recently, by Dale Tomich’s concept of “second slavery,” which highlights the creation of new zones of slavery in the United States and other parts of the continent during the 19th century , historians, including Sven Beckert, Edward Baptist, and Seth Rockman, are now enthusiastically assessing the connections between the expansion of slavery in that period and the formation of global financial markets and industrial economies in Europe and North America. 99 Clearly, the scholarly potential occasioned by the Atlanticization of slavery studies is still unfolding and should not be underestimated.

Into the Digital Era

The digital revolution sparked a radical change across the historical profession that has had particularly important ramifications for the study of slavery and the slave trade. Despite the major theoretical, methodological, and interpretive differences that divided scholars throughout the 20th century , the means of scholarly communication and dissemination of research during that period remained virtually unchanged: books, journal articles, and very occasionally interviews, opinion pieces, and documentary films enabled scholars to explain their work to each other and, to a much lesser extent, a wider public. The emergence of the internet and its rapid infiltration of academic and everyday life has disrupted this landscape, opening new and once inconceivable opportunities to engage in open-ended inquiry unencumbered by publication deadlines, and to share the fruits of that labor with anyone who has access to the web. The digital turn has also inspired scholars to offer creative visual interpretations of the history of both slavery and the slave trade. Perhaps most importantly, the web has provided a site for the presentation and preservation of digitized archival sources that would previously have been accessible to only those people with the means to visit the repositories that hold them. While the consequences of the digital turn are being actively discussed and debated, it is clear that digital history is here to stay.

Digital projects focusing on slavery and the slave trade emerged in the 1990s and tended to be somewhat rudimentary in both their aims and scope, reflecting the limited capacity of the internet itself and, perhaps more appropriately, scholars’ limited comfort using it. These projects had as their main purpose the collection and presentation of primary sources—scanning and loading onto a web page images of captives, owners, slave ships, and forts that teachers or students had collected for pedagogical purposes. Among the first large-scale initiatives to bring together these scattered materials was Jerome Handler and Michael A. Tuite’s website, The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas . 100 Created first as a portal to search through images that Handler had used in lectures, this website grew exponentially over time. From the roughly 200 images organized into ten categories with which the site first launched, it now provides access to 1,280 images arranged under eighteen topical headings. Other digital projects focused on the presentation of scanned archival documents. Libraries and historical societies used the web to advertise their holdings and entice interested viewers to further examine their collections. Many of these sites were free of charge, democratizing access to rare scholarly records—at least for those individuals who had access to the internet.

As the technology associated with digitization has improved, a number of organizations have dedicated vast resources to scaling up digital projects. Though its focus goes well beyond slavery and the slave trade, Google Books has been among the most prominent players in the field. 101 Beginning in the early 2000s, Google quietly began scanning published volumes held in major academic libraries. By 2015 , Google estimated that it had scanned 25 million books—nearly one-fifth of the total number of unique titles ever published. Though copyright laws limit full access to the collection, Google Books is nevertheless unparalleled in its scope and offers unrivaled access to published sources on slavery from the pre-copyright era. Other companies have taken more targeted approaches. The Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice portal, for example, offers access to original archival materials focused primarily, though not exclusively, on the Atlantic World that covers the period between 1490 and 2007 . The project enables users to interface with scans of primary sources and use keyword searches to find relevant materials. 102

As this implies, digitization initiatives have not been limited to the Western world, even if, at times controversially, Western institutions have funded the majority of them. Indeed, one of the enduring consequences of the Atlanticization of slavery scholarship has been the growing dialogue it helped generate between scholars living in or working on areas outside of the Anglo-American world. The British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme is one example: it has supported the digitization of entire archival collections in repositories situated in developing countries, where resources for preservation are extremely limited. 103 Local archivists have become valuable collaborators young students with interests in digital preservation have gained important training and exposure to scanning methods and technologies. Since the early 2000s, major digital initiatives have been launched or completed in places as wide-ranging as Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, and Saint Helena, with important implications for slavery scholarship. 104 One such example is the Slave Societies Digital Archive , directed by Jane Landers and hosted at Vanderbuilt University, which preserves endangered ecclesiastical and secular documents related to Africans and people of African descent. 105 Since 2007 or so, a truly global conversation about slavery and its long-term effects has been nurtured by more widespread access to relevant archival sources.

The growing sophistication of the internet and its users has transformed digital projects on slavery and the slave trade. Websites now go well beyond mere presentations of scanned primary sources. They tend to emphasize interactivity, encouraging site visitors to search through and manipulate data to generate new research insights. Some projects employ “crowdsourcing,” partnering with the public or soliciting data or assistance from site visitors to further a project’s reach. African Origins , for instance, provides to the public some 91,000 records of captives rescued from slave ships in the 19th century , including their indigenous African names. 106 Historians, with the help of other researchers, particularly those people familiar with African languages, have been identifying to which languages these names belong and thereby tracing the inland, linguistic origins of thousands of slaves forced into the Atlantic during the 19th century . 107 This has helped expand insights into slavery and the slave trade well beyond the limited confines of the ivory tower. Moreover, the internet has the added benefit of providing a space for individuals who are passionate about history but whose careers limit their abilities to publish books and articles to share their knowledge with a large pool of readers.

Few digital initiatives have done more for slavery scholarship than Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database . The Voyages site is the product of decades of collaborative research into the transatlantic slave trade. Building on Curtin’s Census, it now provides access to information on nearly 36,000 unique slave voyages that operated between the 1510s and 1867 . The site is made possible by the basic reality that, given the vast amount of money they laid out, owners and operators of slave vessels carefully documented many aspects of slaving excursions. Some of the details captured in written records lend themselves to coding and quantification: the names of captains and owners the places to which slave ships went the numbers of enslaved people loaded onto and forced off of slave ships the ratios of males to females and adults to children among captives and the prices paid for enslaved people. The vast amount of data to which the site provides free access has enabled scholars focused on virtually any aspect of the slave trade or slavery to benefit from and contribute to the Voyages project. Among its most important features is the site’s capacity to expand or revise its records based on contributions from users who uncover new or contradictory evidence. 108

Based in part on the Voyages model—or, in some cases, as a critical response to it—since the 2000s, historical research has witnessed the creation and expansion of important digital projects about enslaved Africans and their descendants. Slave Biographies: Atlantic Database Network , a project spearheaded by Gwendolyn M. Hall and Walter Hawthorne from Michigan State University, offers an open access data repository of information on the identities of enslaved people in the Atlantic World. 109 Liberated Africans , developed by Henry Lovejoy at the University of Colorado, Boulder, brings together information about the lives of some 250,000 Africans rescued from slave ships between 1807 and 1896 . 110 Final Passages , a project under development by Greg O’Malley and Alex Borucki at the University of California system, plans to provide a database of the intra-American slave trade to be deployed on the same platform as Slave Voyages. 111 And what to say of Enslaved: People of the Historic Slave Trade , winner of a $1.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation? The project seeks to bring such digital resources together by focusing on individuals who were enslaved, owned slaves, or participated in slave trading at any time between the beginning and the end of the transatlantic slave trade. 112 It is no doubt the epitome in amassing and interconnecting historical data. Conversations about long-term institutional support for these sites and the data on which they are based—a central and underappreciated aspect of digital history—have also begun to take place in earnest. That they are happening at all is indicative of the revolutionary impact that the digital turn has had on the profession.

All in all, it is no easy task to synthesize decades of research on the history of Atlantic slavery and the slave trade. Although relatively new in comparison to more established fields of Western history, it has grown quickly, amassing a significant body of literature that incorporates some of the most sophisticated methodologies available. Historians have proven so adaptable in their approaches and uses of sources that it is nearly impossible to indicate the direction in which the field is moving. Moreover, in the wake of movements such as Black Lives Matter and Rhodes Must Fall, public interest has turned again to the complex and thorny issue of reparations. Consequently, historians have had an unprecedented opportunity to engage with the public on this question and related ones concerning how societies represent and memorialize the history of slavery. In 2013 , Laurent Dubois noticed in an opinion piece in The New York Times that calls for reparations for slavery and the slave trade in the Caribbean offered an important opportunity to face the multiple ways in which the past continues to shape the present. 113 In the following year, Ta-Nehisi Coates published a cover article in The Atlantic making a powerful case for reparations in the United States. According to him, “until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.” 114 A leading advocate for public memorializing of slavery, Ana Lúcia Araújo, has recently published a book dedicated exclusively to the issue of reparations for slavery and the slave trade. 115 While the most recent iteration of this debate draws on fresh materials and perspectives, Araújo notes that “since the eighteenth century, enslaved and freed individuals started conceptualizing the idea of reparations in correspondence, pamphlets, public speeches, slave narratives, and judicial claims, written in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.” 116 That such issues continue to spark passionate debates and scholarship provides a strong indication of the enduring relevance of slavery’s past to the shaping of the present.


The authors would like to thank Alex Borucki, David Eltis, Greg O’Malley, and Nicholas Radburn for their comments on earlier versions of this article. All interpretations and conclusions reached here are, of course, the authors’ responsibility.

Fighting for Britain: African Soldiers in the Second World War

In the last thirty years, in reaction to a predominantly white, Western and metropole-biased discourse of the Second World War based solely on the 'official' record, there have emerged a growing number of historians who have sought to redress this imbalance by documenting the experiences of colonial men and women in that conflict, utilising oral history in an attempt to give voices to these 'voiceless' individuals whose contribution has been disproportionately sidelined. At the forefront of this movement have been studies of African soldiers serving the British Empire, and an important distinction that has been argued is that for Africans the war did not in fact begin in 1939 but in 1935, when Italy invaded Abyssinia (p. 7). It is no coincidence that the timely emergence of this historiographical revisionism has dovetailed with the period post-decolonisation. The Second World War was a watershed which marked a hegemonic reordering of the world, seeing the decline of the old European colonial powers left financially-crippled by the conflict and struggling to find relevancy in the emerging bi-polar international system of the Cold War. Consequently, one of the major points of debate has been the extent to which colonial ex-servicemen were active participants in anti-colonial movements and nationalist politics, and the degree that these are depictions born retrospectively out of nationalist mythologies.

Fighting for Britain is the natural evolution of this now firmly-established historiographical trend, and the most comprehensive work attempted on the subject thus far. The majority of studies produced to date have largely been regiment and regional focused Fighting for Britain seeks to consolidate these disparate accounts into a comparative examination of 'Anglophone' Africa as a whole. Though the author sets out to 'tell in their own words the story of African soldiers who fought for Britain and South Africa' (p. 1), primarily through oral evidence and soldiers' letters, these are analysed in relation to the major theories and historiography to demonstrate their wider significance. In each area, the author provides an excellent survey of his peers' existing work, in doing so offering the less well-versed reader with a vital contextual framework for interpretation, but it is through this transnational approach that the author is able to take the debate into new territory, both geographically and methodologically. Though African soldiers served overseas, as far afield as Palestine, Ceylon, India and Burma, in the process becoming exposed to new cultures and new ideas, the author is keen to emphasise that such contact zones also existed between Africans themselves. Not only did war throw East Africans together with West Africans, but regiments themselves became a melting pot of different tribal allegiances within these colonially-defined hierarchical structures. It is only through examining these cross-cultural interactions, and not in isolation, that one can truly assess the means and measure by which African soldiers became shaped by their wartime experiences.

The author interrogates the notion that wartime service acted as a unifying force which forged national identities, arguing that because of this 'close association with other soldiers men became more conscious of their cultural and social differences' (p. 214). In critiquing the involvement of ex-servicemen in Ghana's 'nationalist struggle', he concludes that 'soldiers' interests remained solidly sectional' (p. 217), and as far as active political involvement was concerned, asserts that 'soldiers enlisted from and returning to the rural areas were more likely to be involved in local rather than territorial politics' (p. 222). Significantly, the author attests that the relative neglect of 'micropolitical activity' has been symptomatic of the fact that 'academic attention was given to writing a 'nationalist' history that inevitably focused on the role and activities of territorial parties' (p. 215).

The author's comparative approach allows colonial inconsistencies to be highlighted and assumptions that the war had the same affect on all Africans to be expunged:

By 1946 the Gold Coast had a new constitution and a legislative council with an elected African majority. In sharp contrast, in Kenya, on the other side of the continent, only a single African had been appointed by the governor in 1944 to the otherwise all-white legislature (pp. 257-8).

At the same time, the author warns that 'we should not think African soldiers' experiences to be markedly different from those of soldiers from other parts of the world' (p. 246). For example, grievances regarding levels of pay, rations, and conditions of service are not uncommon in the history of most armed forces, though roots of such inequities in this context lay in colonial perceptions of Africans, and in the way 'racially discriminatory proscriptions pervaded the military' (p. 210). Again here, the author is keen to highlight such attitudes varied between different African regiments, and 'overt discrimination which although part of daily colonial life in settler East, Central and South Africa, was at least largely absent from the West African colonies', which translated into the fact that 'West African soldiers received higher pay than did East African, and white soldiers were paid more than Africans' (p. 210). In some instances, wartime experiences broke down these racial distinctions:

Among the shells and bullets there had been no pride, no air of superiority from our European comrades-in-arms. We drank the same tea, used the same water and lavatories, and shared the same jokes. There were no racial insults, no references to 'niggers', 'baboons' and so on. The white heat of battle . only left our common humanity (p. 158).

The notion that 'white prestige' was eroded by such cross-cultural contact, including Africans mixing with white women, is one which is contested by the author, however. He argues that such a construct rested mainly within the minds of Europeans themselves, and that 'the history of 20th-century colonial Africa does not reveal many instances where Africans thought or acted as if white men were 'supermen' (p. 204), and the fact that 'strikes, riots and challenges to white authority steadily grew in the late 1930s throughout Africa' (p. 31) are seen as evidence of this. Consequently, it should not be considered as a major factor undermining colonial authority and turning African thoughts towards self-determination. Neither did it shake British self-belief argues the author, and by the late 1940s 'the colonial emperor was then still well clothed and officials and officials were overwhelmingly confident that . it would be many decades, generations possibly, before colonial territories were able to rule themselves' (p. 204). Though maybe not believed to be racially superior by African soldiers, British superiority was accepted in other ways. For example, although the Japanese possessed superior numbers, it was considered that 'in training and equipment we were definitely ahead of them' (p. 159).

The author notes that not only were African soldiers conscious of others' racial perceptions of them, but they also appropriated and manipulated them for their own means, such as regarding Japanese beliefs that they were cannibals:

While they started to pretend to eat the 'meat' the other Japanese captives who survived would flee for their lives. This was intentional so that after they fled in terror they would spread the news that they were fighting against the cannibals who particularly enjoyed eating Japanese flesh (p. 158).

Yet, in the process, there was an admittance that war did have a dehumanising effect, and 'you became a different person. You leave behind every civilian attitude, every gentle attitude' (p. 164).

War also cultivated a sense of racial superiority within African soldiers themselves. Having witnessed the poverty and squalor in the subcontinent, one Ghanaian ex-serviceman returned with the view that Indians were 'lazy people . always begging' (p. 208), and in East Africa and Natal which possessed large middle-class Indian merchant classes, many Africans returned to view those Indians with 'contempt as poor, vulnerable and despised' (p. 208). Such prejudices were not only racial, but social in nature, such as in the Gold Coast, where ex-servicemen were accused of possessing a 'Burma complex' and 'superiority complex' for not accepting the menial kind of work on offer (p. 195).

In many ways, most notably the country's extreme racial prejudice, its differing political status as a Dominion, and the fact that black South Africans were prevented from serving as combatants, South Africa sits somewhat separate from the other British African colonies in its wartime experience, something acknowledged in the author's introduction and sub-chapter structuring. As a consequence, its inclusion can at times appear to disrupt the fluidity of the narrative and distort the unifying concepts preceding it. However, by highlighting such contrasts the author is able to challenge generalised assumptions regarding the treatment of African soldiers. Furthermore, it helps to emphasise the transnational influence in shaping black South African perceptions of themselves and their own condition, notably how they viewed other African colonial soldiers that they came into contact with and the comparatively better pay, privileges, and attitudes they received.

The choice of title is a provocative one. Certainly it is demonstrated that there were those who consciously chose to 'fight for Britain' out of a sense of imperial patriotism and duty to the 'motherland'. It is inferred in the book, however, that one should not assume that patriotic attestations to 'my country' are necessarily indicative of loyalty to Britain and her sovereign as the author points out, a large number of 'volunteers' were forced to enlist by their tribal chiefs, and British recruiters consciously exploited this collaborative relationship. When men such as Kofi Anane left to fight for 'king and country', this in reality meant fighting for chief and tribe, and was their primary allegiance. He enlisted in 1942 because his chief 'Nana Ofori Atta said that anyone who wanted to help the Akyem State should join up, so I volunteered' (p. 47). In some instances, however, these social structures which pressured Africans into fighting, unwittingly contributed to their own destabilisation, as war 'detribalized African minds' and 'ex-servicemen would be less inclined on their return to submit to chiefly authority' (p. 182). Yet, what such personal accounts demonstrate is the wide spectrum of motivations which led people to war, with military service offering, among other things, 'adventure, a chance to see the world – however poorly perceived – beyond the village, to earn money, and to prove manhood' (p. 45). Again, there is a certain universality to these ideals held by young soldiers which transcends Africa, though they were inevitably influenced by local conditions and power structures. Motivations were often a complex mix of push and pull factors, which could be simultaneously cultural, social, political, economic, and environmental in nature.

In his closing remarks, the author coins Kipling's famous phrase 'lest we forget' as one apt for the 'forgotten men of the African colonial forces' (p. 260). As true as this may be, it does not tell the whole story, and there were thousands of colonial servicemen who fought for the British Empire in the Second World War who are still without a voice. This monograph, by its own admission, focuses solely on the experiences of black African soldiers who fought in the army. Yet, there were also black Africans who served in air and naval forces who have been largely neglected by the wider historiography, along with many men from Britain's other colonial dependencies in the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. As the author warns, the numbers of these veterans are rapidly dwindling as time takes its inevitable toll, and unless efforts are made to record their stories, voiceless is how they will forever remain. Fighting for Britain ensures that at least the recollections of some of these men will be remembered, but it goes far beyond that by placing the relevance of these personal testimonies within a transnational comparative framework, it successfully demonstrates the academic value that such 'people's stories' or 'history from below' can carry in helping to broaden our understanding and interpretation of the 'big ideas'. Consequently, this book addresses issues which will not only appeal to African specialists, and military and imperial historians, but should interest many social, political, cultural, transnational and economic historians too in assessing the far-reaching impact of arguably the pivotal event of the 20th century.

Western Imperialism in the Middle East, 1914–1958

D. K. Fieldhouse’s goal in this major comparative study of British and French imperialism in the Middle East is to consider the effects of the imposition of the mandate system on the former Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire. He brings to this task the wide-ranging knowledge accrued through a lifetime’s research in various aspects of British imperial history, and, more recently, specific regional expertise acquired through the preparation of his study, Kurds, Arabs and Britons: The Memoir of Wallace Lyon in Iraq, 1918–1944 . The result is a work that offers both some fascinating broader insights into the place of the Middle East in the broader pattern of Western imperialism, and some detailed thoughts on the individual mandates themselves. So, Fieldhouse argues that in the broader sense the pattern of British and French rule in the Middle East was similar to that followed elsewhere. Both imperial powers tried to rule through established elites, although the British were much more willing than the French to move their mandates forward towards a qualified form of independence. At the specific, local level, though, Fieldhouse finds no parallel in his wide knowledge of imperial practice elsewhere to compare to the disastrous experiment in social and political engineering undertaken by the British in Palestine. Here, he pulls no punches in his criticisms. The Palestine mandate was, ‘probably the most ignominious failure of its kind in British imperial history, the first time that Britain had ended its rule without leaving an established government behind it’ (pp. 344–5).

As Fieldhouse himself acknowledges, this study is essentially a work of synthesis, although one which enriches the existing scholarship by offering a series of astute assessments of the existing state of historiographical debate in the field. Beginning with the Ottoman legacy, Fieldhouse traces the developments in the early years of the twentieth century, including the genesis of Arab nationalist sentiment and the reform of the Ottoman system. In essence, he concludes that, despite its military defeats in the early years of the twentieth century, by 1914 the Ottoman Empire was in the course of reconstruction. Indeed in respect of the Arab lands, one can even talk of a ‘reconquest’ and reintegration. The great majority of Ottoman subjects remained loyal to the empire and fought for it during the First World War. There was thus no pre-war inevitability about the empire’s collapse. In terms of the Arab nationalist movement, Fieldhouse provides a lucid summary of the subsequent course of the historiographical debate sparked by George Antonius’s seminal (and still eminently readable) tract, The Arab Awakening . For Fieldhouse, Antonius makes a huge jump from charting the revival of cultural interest in the Arabic language, and the development of Arab nationalist secret societies in Syria, to broader claims about the awakening of a widespread Arab consciousness and desire for independence.

Antonius’s arguments were challenged first by C. E. Dawn, who attacked the notion of a dominant and ideologically based Arab nationalist movement before 1914, and held that the majority of Arab notables remained loyal Ottomanists. Thereafter, Albert Hourani, while agreeing with much of Dawn’s critique of Antonius’s arguments about pre-war Arab nationalism, argued that Antonius also placed too much emphasis on the unity and solidity of the Sharif Hussein’s wartime movement. For Hourani, and subsequent commentators including Mary Wilson, the Hashemites were in essence pursuing the defence of their own interests via alliance with the British under the banner of Arab revolt. That Antonius overstated the unity of the Hashemite Arab Revolt, and the role of Arab nationalist ideology in its instigation, is perhaps no surprise in view of the support he received from the Hashemite family in his research. Indeed, the Great Arab Revolt, as formulated by Antonius, remained an ideological reference point for the Hashemites until at least the end of the twentieth century.

If the Ottoman Empire was reviving itself before 1914, and if the appeal of Arab nationalism was by no means widespread in the region, then the First World war emerges as the key event, which shattered the existing order, led to the creation of the mandates system, and originated much of the contemporary instability of the region. In terms of the impact and outcome of the war, probably the most interesting and important question Fieldhouse addresses is why, in view of their wartime promises to the Hashemites about Arab independence, the British ended up cooperating with France in the establishment of a League of Nations mandates system for the former Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire? In terms of the promises to the Hashemites contained in the famous Hussein-McMahon correspondence, Fieldhouse points to what he sees as the ‘ambiguities and absurdities’ (p.57) of McMahon’s 24 October 1915 letter to the Sharif. Antonius too, in his original analysis of the correspondence, was scathing about the British missives, particularly, with his astute eye for style and dignity, the inappropriate and fawning terms in which the Sharif was addressed. In terms of the substance of what was offered to the Sharif by the British, the correspondence certainly provided a weak and imprecise foundation on which to base subsequent claims to Arab independence. Although the British allowed Feisal, Hussein’s third son, to march into Damascus at the head of the Arab army in October 1918, they proved unwilling to champion his claims to retaining his Syrian kingdom once his relations with the French had broken down in the wake of the 1920 San Remo conference. The apportionment of mandates agreed between the powers at San Remo, which saw the British given Mesopotamia (hereafter Iraq) and Palestine (sub-divided in 1922 into Palestine and Transjordan), and the French given Syria and Lebanon, was dictated by Anglo-French relations and interests. For the Hashemites it remained a betrayal of earlier promises, although compensation was subsequently offered to them, first in the shape of the British installation of Feisal as King of Iraq, and, later, in the form of the British acquiescence in the assumption of authority in Transjordan by the Sharif’s second son Abdullah.

The British establishment of the new state of Iraq, and its political development under the mandate, is a matter of more than academic interest from the perspective of the early-twenty-first century. Most wisely, Fieldhouse avoids indulging in any misplaced attempts at drawing comparisons between the British imposition of political authority in the wake of their military conquest, between 1918 and 1921, and the singular Anglo-American failure to do likewise in the wake of the contemporary invasion of Iraq, between 2003 and 2006. Nevertheless, book reviewers have the licence to be more self-indulgent than serious authors, so I trust readers will forgive me one or two comparative sallies in this direction. First of all, it is clear that at the end of the First World War, the British in Iraq were regarded not as deliverers, but as infidel invaders. Secondly, ‘post-invasion policy’ was also poorly thought out. There was no clear plan for Iraq between 1918 and 1920, and thus political developments were prey to competing pressures on the ground, bureaucratic competition back in London, and political tensions in the international arena. The result was drift, and it should have been no surprise when, in July 1920, a major revolt broke out in the Euphrates valley against British rule. Consider Fieldhouse’s description of the causes of the revolt: ‘the rising was a general reaction to the realities of foreign occupation, sparked off by evidence of apparent British military weakness in Mosul, and given a crusading spirit by the clerics’ (p. 87).

The costs of suppressing the insurgency were high. The British lost 426 dead, 1,228 wounded and 615 missing or taken prisoner. There were around 8,000 casualties among the insurgents. What mattered more, though, in terms of securing the relative political stability which subsequently prevailed in Iraq through the 1920s and 1930s, was the British political response to the crisis. Here, the essence of the subsequent British strategy was to co-opt, as far as possible, the existing elites. Albeit that at the apex of the Iraqi political system the British imposed an alien monarch, in the shape of Feisal I, who brought with him his own retainers from the Hashemite Arab army, nevertheless, their goal was to establish under him a ‘national government’ that would attract genuine Iraqi support. Moreover, as Fieldhouse points out, once again illustrating the benefit of his wide knowledge of the workings of British imperialism elsewhere, ‘the key to the British approach to creating the Iraq constitution lies in the fact that, uniquely in British imperial history, it was intended to lead to early independence rather than extended imperial rule’ (p. 97).

Fieldhouse is unsentimental about the realities of the political system established by the British in Iraq. It was ‘democratic’ in form only, with real power lying in the hands of a small circle of notables, and ex-Sharifian officers close to the king. Parliamentary elections produced little more than a shuffling of the existing pack, while, even after independence in 1932, the British remained the dominant influence behind the scenes until the 1958 revolution swept away the existing social and political order. In essence, what the British did in Iraq was to rule through, and depend on, what H. Batatu, in his monumental study, called the ‘old social classes’. Moreover, their establishment of a ‘centralized bureaucratic regime’, and an ‘unnecessarily large army’, laid the groundwork for the subsequent revolution (p. 116). Thus while, in Fieldhouse’s view, the British succeeded in creating a viable state from three former Ottoman vilayets, and in satisfying most of what they wanted in terms of their economic and strategic interests for forty years, thereafter they left Iraq to its own devices. ‘Iraq could then fall into what became the common mould of other revolutionary Middle Eastern states under military regimes, almost as if the mandate had never existed’ (p. 116). This characterization reminds me very much of the comments of one Arab official from the former mandate administration in Palestine, who described for me the disappearance of his British superiors almost overnight. ‘The mandate dissolved’, he told me, ‘like salt in water’.

Fieldhouse’s decision to choose 1958 as the terminal date for this volume is, therefore, logical in the sense that the Iraqi revolution of that year marked the effective overthrow of the social and political order established by the British during the early 1920s. It is nevertheless refreshing for those of us who are used to having to deal with 1956 as the supposed terminal date for the British imperial role in the Middle East, to see it thus subtly revised. As the former British diplomat Harold Beeley observed some while ago, ‘the event which more than any other symbolized the end of an era was the death at the hands of the Baghdad mob… of [Iraqi Prime Minister] Nuri Said … for whom association with Britain had been axiomatic throughout his long career’ (1 ).

While the British achieved some limited, if transient, success in Iraq, Fieldhouse finds nothing to recommend either the conduct or legacy of the mandate in Palestine. Whether conceived of in terms of British imperial interests, the interests of the indigenous inhabitants, or its longer-term effects on regional and international stability, British mandatory rule over Palestine was an unmitigated disaster. The Balfour Declaration of November 1917 was originally framed, in Fieldhouse’s view, largely ‘to ensure that no potentially hostile country controlled Palestine’ (p. 147). As problems mounted in the mandate during the 1930s, a key argument against altering or surrendering it remained the fear that the French might step in instead. Thus, although Fieldhouse acknowledges that certain British officials were driven by a belief in the essential justice of the Zionist cause, in his view it was principally considerations of imperial interest and prestige that predominated in the British acquisition and maintenance of the Palestine mandate. That the eventual collapse of the mandate would do significant harm to Britain in both of these respects is certainly a considerable irony.

In respect of British attempts to make the mandate workable, Fieldhouse points out that the principal difficulty lay in the attitude of the Arab majority population. The one concession which the British might have offered to win over Arab opinion, the cessation of Jewish immigration, was not in their power to grant under the terms of the mandate. The British also made an unfortunate choice in selecting, as the Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husayni, who proved to be a most unreliable collaborator. Meanwhile, cooperation with the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish community in Palestine or Yishuv, which had been the foundation of British rule through the 1920s and 1930s, also came under pressure in the wake of the 1939 White Paper, with its proposed limits on Jewish immigration. By 1943, Fieldhouse argues, ‘the majority of the Yishuv had already come to see total independence as essential and were ready to fight Britain to achieve it’ (p. 186). The 1948 dénouement in Palestine, and the unseemly British scuttle for the door without leaving any effective administration behind, ranks, in Fieldhouse’s view, ‘as one of the major defeats in British imperial history, comparable with that by the Thirteen Colonies in 1776–83 and the fall of Singapore in 1942’ (p. 195). In this respect one might once again note that it is odd that so much of the historiography of the decline of the British imperial role in the Middle East has focused on the humiliation of Suez in 1956. Certainly in terms of Arab perceptions of the British role in the region, it was the outcome in Palestine that mattered much more in ensuing years.

Without question, the most successful outcome of the British experiment in mandatory rule lay in Transjordan. Herein, one might observe an irony, for the British approach in Transjordan was almost wholly ad hoc in the early years of the mandate. Indeed, even the creation of Transjordan as a separate mandate was largely unplanned, although Churchill’s famous description of the emirate as ‘that country I created one Sunday afternoon’ surely overstates the case. Certainly the first ruler of Transjordan, the Emir Abdullah, played a significant role in establishing the foundations of the state during the 1920s and 1930s, albeit that he could not have succeeded without British support. Here Fieldhouse draws another interesting comparison from his wider knowledge of British imperial rule, noting that Abdullah was in ‘much the same subservient position as rulers of princely states in India or in Northern Nigeria’ (p. 226). He was the nominal ruler, but in practice was obliged to do as the British representative, or resident, wanted. Abdullah’s success in re-negotiating this position was rewarded with Transjordan’s independence after the Second World War, although the country did not fully break free of British influence until the negotiated termination of the Anglo-Jordanian Treaty under his successor, Hussein, in March 1957.

In terms of the pattern of French mandatory rule in Syria and Lebanon, probably the more surprising element to emerge from Fieldhouse’s account is the extent of the similarities with the British approach. In both cases, the methods adopted involved ruling through elements of the established elites. In both cases, each imperial power took up its mandates principally to defend perceived imperial interests against the possible encroachment, or excessive aggrandisement, of the other. The main difference between the British and French, though, was that the French refused to offer a schedule for independence in their mandates. Moreover, France had relatively little experience of the region to fall back on in working out how to govern its mandates. The French had, in fact, done little actual fighting to gain their share of the Ottoman spoils. It was mainly the British determination to preserve the entente in Europe and Britain’s post-war lack of resources which explained their willingness to bring the French into the region (p. 251). Thereafter, Fieldhouse draws an interesting comparison between the methods of French colonial rule in Syria and British rule in Iraq. ‘The main difference’, he argues, ‘lay in the façade’ (p. 260). In Baghdad, all the main departments had Iraqi ministerial heads who notionally made policy, even if in practice this had to be cleared with a British advisor. ‘This never happened in Syria’, where all the main departments were under exclusive French control. Nevertheless, the French succeeded in maintaining control because the local Syrian notables proved largely docile under their rule, which effectively preserved the social status quo.

In Lebanon, meanwhile, the French found ready collaborators in the form of the Maronite Christian community, which feared being swamped in an independent Arab state. France reciprocated their loyalty, with Lebanon representing ‘the jewel in its new Middle Eastern empire’ (p. 328). Nevertheless, the carving out of a greater Lebanon from Syria, incorporating large Sunni and Shia Muslim minorities, laid the foundations both for Lebanon’s eventual civil war, and the ultimate eclipse of Maronite leadership. In short, Fieldhouse contends, ‘it is arguable that the worst thing the French did in Lebanon was not to postpone independence and continually interfere in Lebanese politics, but to create a plural society’ (p. 329).

Fieldhouse concludes his analysis with an interesting counter-factual section looking at what other outcomes might have been possible had the mandate system not been imposed on the region in the wake of the First World War. He effectively dismisses the possibility that the Allies might have allowed Ottoman rule in some form or another to continue after the war. There had been too much blood spilt for that. What then of the possible outcome had the British honoured their promises to the Hashemites and created an independent Arab state? Fieldhouse argues convincingly that a single Arab state stretching from the Mediterranean to the Yemen under the Sharif was ‘beyond all probabilities’ (p. 338). There was simply no existing political, administrative, or economic basis on which to found such a state. Could separate, independent Arab states have survived after the war? Probably the best chance would have been in Syria, although Fieldhouse finds the evidence provided by the brief period of Feisal’s regime in Damascus far from promising. The probability of success elsewhere, he believes, was even lower. Had the British simply withdrawn, then, ‘there would have been no state system and probably a great deal of confusion and rivalry’ (p. 340). The mandates were, in theory, a good way to avoid this chaos. Had they in fact acted as devices to aid political development, they could even have been a good thing. In practice, though, Fieldhouse points out (in a choice phrase) that, ‘the mandate was the weasel word that would appear to combine the reality of effective Western control with the ethics of President Wilson’ (p. 341). In sum, he finds the British record as a mandatory power to be ‘very mixed’ (p. 345). The French, meanwhile, failed to allow the development of true self-government. Overall, Fieldhouse’s conclusion on the effects of the system is fair and judicious, reflecting the balanced judgements made throughout this volume: ‘the mandates sowed dragon’s teeth that were eventually to grow into the complex of tensions and despotisms that constitute the contemporary Middle East’ (p. 348).

For any student wanting a good introduction to the workings of British and French imperialism in the Middle East this volume is to be highly recommended. Regional and imperial historians, too, will find food for thought in Fieldhouse’s cogent summaries of the evolution of the historiography in this field. Overall, this is a thoughtful and erudite volume which goes a long way towards locating the apparently exceptional case of the Middle East in the mainstream of British and French imperial history.

British environmental history

The term &lsquoenvironmental history&rsquo is a relatively recent innovation and was coined in the United States by Roderick Nash in the early 1970s. It is no coincidence that &lsquoenvironmental history&rsquo arose in the USA in conjunction with the popularity of the environmentalist movements inspired by the 1960s counter-culture. Indeed, environmental history still has its strongest institutional base in that country, where numerous historians would self-define as environmental historians, and where the journal Environmental History is published.

The success of American environmental history was due in part to the development of important new lines of inquiry which meshed with the evolution of world history and the emergence of a post-colonial historiography. Environmental historians like Alfred Crosby, Donald Worster and William Cronon gave the new discipline an intellectual coherence by establishing as key questions the relations between human agency and the transformation of the globe&rsquos ecology through imperialism, exploration, agricultural change, technological innovation and urban expansion. In demonstrating the possibilities in disinterring the interactions of natural and social change their work has had a lasting influence not just on environmental history but on the history of the United States as a whole.

In comparison with these achievements it is not really possible to speak of a &lsquoBritish environmental history&rsquo. Indeed, as P. Warde and S. Sörlin have recently observed,(1) environmental history has notably failed to establish itself as a recognised area of study with regard to historical studies as a whole yet whether this failure should be seen as the problem of environmental history, either in Britain or elsewhere, is another question altogether.

The absence of a strictly-defined disciplinary presence has not prevented nature and ecology taking their place in historical investigation. There is a long established connection between English history and landscape history, for example. The social historian G. M. Trevelyan was a prominent supporter of the National Trust. Similarly, W. G. Hoskins&rsquos Making of the English Landscape (2) affected not just the development of local history, but the development of conservationist ideas in Britain, and remains a widely used text in undergraduate courses. Such examples suggest that historical concerns with environmental questions have originated from different historical and disciplinary circumstances in Britain. Many of the questions addressed by &lsquoenvironmental history&rsquo in the United States, for example, have in Britain been incorporated within other areas such as geography.

These tendencies have probably only been accentuated by the fact that many of the self-defined environmental historians who are working in Britain have tended to write histories that are deliberately outward looking. The British empire, not the British Isles, has been the main concern of historians such as Richard Grove, whose highly influential book Green Imperialism (3) consciously looked at the experience of environmental change on Europe&rsquos overseas colonies and its effects on the emergence of an environmental consciousness among scientists.

William Beinart and Lotte Hughes&rsquos excellent recent book Environment and Empire (4) maintains this focus on the imperial impact of environmental change. Peter Coates on the other hand studied environmental change and attitudes in the USA. Similarly, Paul Warde&rsquos work on the early modern state and environmental regulation, Ecology, Economy and State Formation in Early Modern Germany,(5) takes a continental European perspective.

There has been, then, an apparent reluctance among environmental historians working in Britain to address the environmental transformation of the British Isles. In part this reflects an attraction to transnationalism in environmental history, the perfectly sound belief that processes of ecological and historical change can only be understood outside of the traditionally set boundaries of the western model of the state.

Any environmental history of Britain, of course, has to pay close attention to traditional political distinctions such as state and society, capitalism and nature. That this need not be a disadvantage can be seen in the works of those few historians who have turned their attention specifically towards environmental change in Britain. Leading the way have been historians like I. G. Simmonds whose Environmental History of Great Britain from 10,000 Years Ago to the Present (6) presents a broad outline of ecological change in Britain since the last retreat of the glaciers. John Sheail&rsquos diverse works cover the history of the National Trust, the history of British ecology and the history of the rabbit. His Environmental History of Twentieth-Century Britain (7) is the best introduction to the development of nature and resource conservation policies in the UK, and can usefully be read alongside B. W. Clapp&rsquos Environmental History of Britain Since the Industrial Revolution,(8) which focuses more on the relations between economic development and the environment.

Indeed, a good deal of British &lsquoenvironmental history&rsquo is to be found in the work of economic historians: E. A. Wrigley&rsquos work (9) on the importance of coal in the making of what Asa Briggs terms &lsquocarboniferous capitalism&rsquo, or E. L. Jones&rsquos study (10) of the relations between agricultural transformation and industrialisation. However, the interest of economic historians in environmental history has not been concerned with the establishment of a discipline of environmental history so much as with answering traditional questions about the origins of the industrialisation process.

Urban history has been the other key player in British environmental history. Pollution, especially urban pollution, has attracted particular attention, and arguably this is where the most important contributions in British environmental history are currently being made. S. Mosley&rsquos The Chimney of the World: a History of Smoke Pollution in Victorian and Edwardian Manchester (11) and P. Thorsheim&rsquos Inventing Pollution: Coal Smoke and Culture in Britain Since 1800 (12) have both made significant contributions to understanding the cultural construction of pollution in urban Britain.

B. Luckin&rsquos work crosses the margins between urban history and the histories of technology and environment, and in Questions of Power: Electricity and Environment in Inter-war Britain (13) he has suggested the importance of technological networks in environmental transformations. Perhaps the most important recent contribution has been J. Winter&rsquos Secure from Rash Assault,(14) which by questioning the wisdom that 19th-century industrialism posed a threat to the environment, has posed a bold new research agenda which deserves to be pursued.

An obvious question arising from these observations on the nature of British environmental history is, of course, whether Britain needs any such discipline. The fractious tendency of history to split into manifold sub-disciplines arguably had some logic in the second half of the 20th century when the multiplication of new modes of analysis and theoretical frameworks led to growing complexity within the profession. New schools of historical study were keen to establish distinctive political and intellectual positions.

However, in the early 21st century such a process may have reached its limits. The dominance of cultural and linguistic analysis within many disciplines suggests that future debates will be divided less along disciplinary and sub-disciplinary lines and more along lines of epistemological commitment. Social scientific approaches may well increasingly take up a position against cultural forms of analysis. In such an intellectual world the effort to define separate sub-disciplines will seem increasingly arcane, and indeed, environmental history itself might divide along materialist and cultural lines.

This need not happen, of course. If, instead of viewing environmental history in disciplinary terms, we take the environment in both its material and cultural forms to form an important object of study regardless of disciplinary perspective, there is hope for a period of historical research that will be more holistic and integrative in approach. Making the environment a key problem in historical studies may ultimately be more important than trying to carve out a new disciplinary niche within history.

  1. S. Sörlin and P. Warde, &lsquoThe Problem of the Problem of Environmental History&rsquo Environmental History 12, 1 (2007), 107&ndash130.
  2. W. G. Hoskins, TheMaking of the English Landscape (London, 1955).
  3. Richard Grove, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600&ndash1860 (Cambridge, 1994).
  4. William Beinart and Lotte Hughes, Environment and Empire (Oxford, 2007).
  5. Paul Warde, Ecology, Economy and State Formation in Early Modern Germany (Cambridge, 2006).
  6. I. G. Simmonds, Environmental History of Great Britain from 10,000 Years Ago to the Present (Edinburgh, 2001).
  7. John Sheail, AnEnvironmental History of Twentieth-Century Britain (Basingstoke, 2002).
  8. B. W. Clapp, AnEnvironmental History of Britain Since the Industrial Revolution (London, 1994).
  9. E. A. Wrigley, &lsquoThe Supply of Raw Materials in the Industrial Revolution&rsquo, Economic History Review, 15, 1 (1962), 1&ndash16.
  10. E. L. Jones, &lsquoThe Agricultural Origins of Industry&rsquo, Past and Present, 40 (1968), 58&ndash71.
  11. S. Mosley, TheChimney of the World: a History of Smoke Pollution in Victorian and Edwardian Manchester (Cambridge, 2001).
  12. Peter Thorsheim, Inventing Pollution: Coal Smoke and Culture in Britain Since 1800 (Athens, O., 2006).
  13. B. Luckin, Questions of Power: Electricity and Environment in Inter-war Britain (New York, 1990).
  14. J. Winter, Secure from Rash Assault: Sustaining the Victorian Environment (Berkeley, Calif., 1999).

Dr Timothy Cooper is lecturer in History at the University of Exeter.

New Directions and Fragmentation ↑

Although the Fischer thesis remained a source of debate amongst German historians, the erosion of the orthodoxy that had emerged in the 1960s and 1970s had diverse sources, often outside Germany. For example, two British historians, Geoff Eley and David Blackbourn, began to dismantle the Sonderweg thesis. British social historians were not inclined to idealise British historical developments, against which German history could be measured and found wanting. In the immediate term, the questioning of the Sonderweg by social historians had little impact on research in international history. Rather than a full-fronted assault on the Fischer thesis, the cornerstone of the new orthodoxy, changing historical interpretations, emerged across a range of different issues. This reflected the increasing breadth of research into international history, but it also contributed to a fragmentation of the field.

Political developments continued to shape historians’ perspectives. Of course not every changing perspective can be attributed to contemporary political currents. Rarely do historians adopt an openly “presentist” frame of reference for their research. Present debates tend to work in more suggestive ways, opening up new questions rather than providing easy templates. George Kennan’s (1904-2005) well-known characterisation of the First World War as the “seminal catastrophe” of the 20 th century came during the height of the Second Cold War during the 1980s, when fear of nuclear war stalked the world. Political scientists investigated the “cult of the offensive” before 1914, with one eye on the influence of military planners on foreign policy. [21]

Yet the end of the Cold War arguably had a more profound impact, raising new questions. First, the relatively peaceful ending of the Cold War suggested that long-term great power confrontation did not inevitably issue in a general war. Indeed political scientists, such as John Mueller, wrote of the “obsolescence of major war”, which they traced back to the experiences of the First World War. Historians began to ask not why war broke out in 1914, but why and how peace between the great powers had been maintained for over four decades. Holger Afflerbach questioned the argument of his doctoral supervisor, Wolfgang Mommsen (1930-2004), that political and military leaders viewed war as inevitable. Instead, he and Friedrich Kießling identified a topos of “improbable war”. Questions have their own built-in assumptions. By reframing the question around the preservation of peace, historians have directed their attention to stabilising elements in international politics. This has informed revisionist accounts of a wide range of topics, from the alliance system to popular movements.

Second, the failure of many realist scholars to predict the outcome of the Cold War led international relations theorists to revisit assumptions about international politics. From the early 1990s, scholars developed constructivist approaches to international politics, challenging realist ideas about anarchy, the distribution of power, and the articulation of the national interest. As Alexander Wendt put it neatly, “anarchy is what states make of it”. Tracing the impact of this new departure in international relations scholarship on historical research is difficult for various reasons. Historians have long been aware of the importance of perception and what James Joll called the “unspoken assumptions”. Whereas Joll was primarily interested in how these assumptions shaped individual decisions, notably during the July crisis, the constructivist approach invites historians to consider how understandings of the international system are shared between key actors. It directs attention to the normative environment, adding a further layer to analyses based on power and interest. Although we may see norms as being pro-social – facilitating cooperation and conflict-resolution – certain norms, such as honour, can incentivise violence and war. Explaining the outbreak of war can also involve charting how the normative environment broke down in the final years of peace. [22]

The end of the Cold War accelerated processes of globalisation, which had begun in the 1970s. By the 1990s, historians were busily drafting agendas for global history. The late 19 th and early 20 th centuries offered a rich seam for global historians. On many measures, the world was “more global” in 1913 than in the early 21 st century. Capital flows, trade, migration, and cultural exchange reshaped the world after the American Civil War. Jürgen Osterhammel and Niels Petersson called this the era of “classical globalisation.” [23] Yet globalisation in the early 20 th century produced a puzzle of sorts for historians of international relations. The credo of globalisation theories in the 1990s suggested that growing economic interdependence and cultural exchange made wars – certainly between the major powers – irrational in any sense of material gain or security. Similar arguments had been well rehearsed before 1914 and yet the great powers had gone to war. Kevin O’Rourke and Richard Findlay contend that the First World War brought 19 th century globalisation to an “abrupt end”, but they also suggest that the war was not the result of inherent tensions in the global economy. Rather, the war “still appears as somewhat of a diabolus ex machina” in their account. [24] Interdependence could produce conflict as well as harmony. Some recent works have begun to tease out the relationship between globalisation and erosion of peace. Sebastian Conrad’s work on German identity and globalisation before 1914 showed how national identity was sometimes strengthened through antagonistic encounters with others in a globalising international system. Nicholas Lambert argues that British naval planners intended to exploit commercial interdependence to bring about Germany’s economic collapse, while Jennifer Siegel has shown how the financial interdependence between Russia and France strengthened the political alliance between the two states. [25]

Since the 1980s historians of British foreign policy have questioned narratives centred on the European balance of power and the German threat to British security. Keith Wilson argued that British decision-makers viewed Russia as the primary threat, privileged the maintenance of empire over the balance of power in Europe, and had a military posture dedicated to imperial defence, not European wars. [26] The historical debate reflected in some ways the broader debate in Britain about its relationship with Europe. Scepticism about British participation in the European project had existed since the end of the Second World War, but during the 1980s this scepticism migrated from the Labour to the Conservative party. Eurosceptics on the right continued to emphasise themes such as the defence of parliamentary sovereignty, but they also sought to present Britain as a global, rather than a European, power. In the late 1990s, Niall Ferguson and John Charmley published two of the most trenchant criticisms of British foreign policy before 1914. Both argued that Britain should have stayed out of the war and that a Europe under German hegemony – the Kaiser’s European Union in Ferguson’s telling phrase – would have been compatible with British interests. According to Charmley, Grey had an unfounded fear of the German Empire, while Ferguson followed Wilson’s argument that Grey appeased Russia to stave off a threat in central Asia – but at the cost of encircling Germany in Europe and creating conditions that made war more likely. [27] Since the 1990s, this argument has rumbled on and has encountered some strong rebuttals. Nonetheless, it has had implications for the broader discussion of the origins of the war, emphasising the relationship between the emerging global balance of power and the anxieties of German leaders who feared the Empire was being relegated to a second-rate European power.

One consequence of Germany’s dominant position amongst the Central Powers was the relative neglect of Austro-Hungarian foreign policy in discussions of the question of the origins of the war. This neglect was compounded by the assumption that the multi-ethnic empire was inevitably doomed to collapse, its foreign policy largely a study in myopia and wishful thinking. Recent historiography has been generous in assessing the stabilising function of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The ponderous decision-making process and the labyrinthine bureaucracy look less odd as Europeans grapple with the complexities of the European Union. Paradoxically the more positive view of the Austro-Hungarian Empire has gone hand in hand with more sustained criticism of its foreign policy-makers, who overestimated the challenges posed by national minorities. Samuel Williamson – in the Macmillan series mentioned above – argued that leaders in Vienna were responsible for pushing for war in 1914. In other words, German support was essential for the Austro-Hungarian attack on Serbia, but Leopold von Berchtold (1863-1942), Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf (1852-1925), and other key figures in Vienna had their own agendas and were not mere pawns in German machinations. [28]

The renewed attention to Austria-Hungary’s foreign policy – at least in English-language surveys of international politics before the war – reflects a shift in historians’ geographical perspectives. Narratives centred on Anglo-German antagonism or the hereditary enmity of the French and Germans were rooted in the wartime experience, but the focus on western European tensions marginalised the fault lines, conflicts, and accommodations in eastern Europe and the Balkans. The violent break-up of Yugoslavia, the expansion of the European Union, tensions between Russia and its neighbours, and the growth of Turkish power in the eastern Mediterranean has reshaped how historians view European history. As historians have integrated research beyond the Western Front into their analyses of the war, international historians now pay more attention to the agency of the Balkan states, the vicissitudes of Ottoman politics, and Russian ambitions in the region – supplementing the work of previous generations of historians, who had examined British, German, and French imperial projects. Sean McMeekin’s work has done much to shift historians’ attention to the conflicts between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, though his claims about Russian responsibility for starting the war have been heavily criticised, notably in Dominic Lieven’s recent thoughtful account. [29] This work also raises broader questions about the normative environment and hierarchies of states in Europe. Mustafa Aksakal’s important study of Ottoman foreign policy on the eve of its entry to the war in November 1914 shows how intellectuals close to the Committee of Union and Progress lost faith in the claims of great powers to uphold international law, while Michael Reynolds examines how geopolitical rivalry and the principle of nationality were mutually constitutive in Russian-Ottoman relations. [30]

Fresh agendas and debates also resulted from new methodological approaches to international history and the opening up of further archival material. The fall of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union led to the opening up of new archival material. This included the return of archival material about military planning to Germany, which spawned a minor cottage industry centred on the Schlieffen Plan. [31] The rise of cultural history in the 1980s, with its emphasis on language, mentalities, and representation, had much to offer international historians. Equally Joll’s work on unspoken assumptions and constructivist theories of international relations showed that international historians could contribute to the breadth of cultural history. And yet, for various reasons, the fields of international and cultural history remained distant. The fruitful collaboration between military and cultural historians has been followed by valuable cultural history approaches to international relations. These studies may not explain the moment of decision about war and peace – the diplomatic twitch, as David Reynolds puts it – but they deepen our understanding of the complexity of international relations, how power was constructed, and how people imagined the questions and choices they encountered in foreign policy. [32]

The breadth of scholarship produced since the 1970s had not only chipped away at the Fischer thesis it had also enlarged historians’ understandings of foreign policy making before 1914. The clarity of Fischer’s thesis had less purchase against the background of the evident complexity of international politics. In historiographical terms, this complexity had resulted in the fragmentation of the study of international history. The emphasis on complexity also reflected an understanding of the openness of history, of the possibilities in international politics before 1914. Without a singular thesis to bind together the study of international history, historians engaged each other on more narrow grounds, such as German military planning or British naval policy before 1914.

Historiography and the uses of history in the Second French Empire? - History

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                                                  • Confidence and Disaster
                                                  • Contradictions of the Enlightenment: Darwin, Freud, Einstein, Dada
                                                    • The Classical Synthesis
                                                    • The Advance of Medical Theory and Treatments
                                                    • Geology
                                                    • Biology: Red in Tooth and Claw
                                                      • Reactions to Darwin
                                                      • Social Darwinism
                                                      • Religion in the Face of Modernity
                                                      • Catholicism: Reaction and Radicalism
                                                        • The Popes: Reaction and Reform
                                                        • Renewed Marianism
                                                        • Converts
                                                        • Converts and Decadence
                                                        • Radicals
                                                        • Missionary Expansion
                                                        • Biblical Criticism
                                                        • Muscular Christianity
                                                        • The Oxford Movement
                                                        • Quakers
                                                        • Fundamentalism
                                                        • Missionary Expansion
                                                        • Resistence to Roman Control
                                                          • Old Catholics
                                                          • "Modernism"

                                                          World Wars and the End of Western Dominance

                                                          • World War I
                                                          • The Path to War
                                                            • Ottoman Empire: Weakness
                                                            • The Balkans: Conflict
                                                            • Austria Hungary
                                                            • German Arms Race
                                                            • The Alliance System
                                                            • Diplomatic History
                                                            • Military History
                                                            • Personal Accounts
                                                            • The Tsarist State
                                                            • Russian Revolution
                                                              • The Development of the Opposition
                                                              • Lenin
                                                              • 1905
                                                                • 1905 Party Programs
                                                                • Age of Anxiety: The Interwar Years
                                                                • European Culture
                                                                • Western Europe
                                                                  • Britain
                                                                  • France
                                                                  • Yugoslavia
                                                                  • Czechoslovakia
                                                                  • Hungary
                                                                  • Romania
                                                                  • Greece
                                                                  • Turkey
                                                                  • United States Intervention
                                                                  • Mexico
                                                                  • Argentina
                                                                  • Chile
                                                                  • Uruguay
                                                                  • The Weimar Republic
                                                                  • National Socialism
                                                                    • Hitler
                                                                    • Elections
                                                                    • The Churches and the Nazis
                                                                    • The Holocaust
                                                                    • Anti-Semitism
                                                                      • Religious Anti-Semitism
                                                                      • Racist Anti-Semitism
                                                                      • Violent Racist Anti-Semitism
                                                                      • Armenia 1914-
                                                                      • Bangladesh 1971
                                                                      • East Timor 1975-
                                                                      • Cambodia 1978
                                                                      • Rwanda 1996
                                                                      • Former Yugoslavia
                                                                      • World Unity
                                                                        • The United Nations Organization
                                                                        • Human Rights: Universal Ideals or a Western Impositions?
                                                                        • Beginnings
                                                                        • Berlin Crises
                                                                        • Cuban Crises
                                                                        • Cold Warriors
                                                                        • Various Detentes
                                                                        • America as World Leader: External Power
                                                                        • American Foreign Relations
                                                                          • Realpolitik or Human Rights
                                                                          • America as World Leader: Internal Change
                                                                          • US Domestic Politics: The State
                                                                            • American Conservatism
                                                                              • McCarthyism
                                                                              • Republicans
                                                                              • Democrats
                                                                              • Balance of Power
                                                                              • Rights in Court
                                                                              • Racial Equality
                                                                              • Free Speech
                                                                              • Western Europe Since 1945
                                                                                • The Division of Europe
                                                                                • Reconstruction
                                                                                • European Union
                                                                                • The Welfare State
                                                                                • Britain
                                                                                • Germany
                                                                                • France
                                                                                • Italy
                                                                                • Spain
                                                                                • Ireland
                                                                                • Other Western Countries
                                                                                • Eastern Europe Since 1945
                                                                                • The Soviet Union/Russia
                                                                                  • Domestic Politics
                                                                                  • Foreign Policy
                                                                                  • Albania
                                                                                  • Hungary
                                                                                  • Yugoslavia
                                                                                  • Romania
                                                                                  • India
                                                                                  • China
                                                                                    • Chinese Efforts to Modernize: 1911-1949
                                                                                    • Communist Rule
                                                                                    • Dissidents
                                                                                    • Post Mao China
                                                                                    • Hong Kong
                                                                                    • Israel and Palestine
                                                                                      • Zionism
                                                                                      • The British Mandate
                                                                                      • The Establishment of the State of Israel
                                                                                      • Israeli Soceity
                                                                                      • The Palestinians
                                                                                      • 20th Century Latin America
                                                                                      • Common Themes and Issue
                                                                                        • United States Interference
                                                                                        • Pan-American Efforts
                                                                                        • Economic Progress
                                                                                        • National Identity
                                                                                        • Liberation Theology
                                                                                        • Modern Social Movements
                                                                                        • Feminism
                                                                                          • Origins of Third Wave
                                                                                          • Cultural Feminism
                                                                                          • Political Feminism
                                                                                          • Liberal Feminism
                                                                                          • Radical Feminism
                                                                                          • The US Civil Rights Movement
                                                                                          • Radicals
                                                                                          • Since 1968
                                                                                          • Existentialism
                                                                                          • Post-Structuralism and Offspring
                                                                                            • Linguistics
                                                                                            • Anthropology
                                                                                            • Pomo Marxism
                                                                                            • Deconstruction
                                                                                            • Social Constructionism
                                                                                            • Queer Theor
                                                                                            • Religion since 1945
                                                                                            • Roman Catholicism
                                                                                            • Protestantism
                                                                                            • Eastern Orthodoxy
                                                                                            • Judaism
                                                                                            • Islam
                                                                                            • Buddhism
                                                                                            • Humanist-Religious Debate
                                                                                            • Science, Technology and the Transformation in the Means of Production
                                                                                            • Biology: The DNA Revolution
                                                                                            • Physics
                                                                                            • Space Exploration
                                                                                            • Computers
                                                                                            • Knowledge Based Production
                                                                                            • The Internet
                                                                                            • The World Environment: Cornucopeian Plenty or a Crisis Situation

                                                                                            The Internet Modern History Sourcebook is one of series of history primary sourcebooks. It is intended to serve the needs of teachers and students in college survey courses in modern European history and American history, as well as in modern Western Civilization and World Cultures. Although this part of the Internet History Sourcebooks Project began as a way to access texts that were already available on the Internet, it now contains hundreds of texts made available locally.

                                                                                            The great diversity of available sources for use in modern history classes requires that selections be made with great care - since virtually unlimited material is available. The goals here are:

                                                                                            • To present a diversity of source material in modern European, American, and Latin American history, as well as a significant amount of materal pertinent to world cultures and global studies. A number of other online source collections emphasize legal and political documents. Here efforts have been made to include contemporary narrative accounts, personal memoirs, songs, newspaper reports, as well as cultural, philosophical, religious and scientific documents. Although the history of social and cultural elite groups remains important to historians, the lives of non-elite women, people of color, lesbians and gays are also well represented here.
                                                                                            • To present the material as cleanly as possible, without complicated hierarchies and subdirectories, and without excessive HTML markup. What you get here is direct access to significant documents, not the efforts of some whizkid "website designer". In other words, we are interested here in the music, not the Hi-fi!.
                                                                                            • Within the major sections, to indicate a few high quality web sites for further source material and research.

                                                                                            The texts on these pages come from many sources:

                                                                                            • Files posted to various places on the net. In some cases, the source URL no longer exists.
                                                                                            • Shorter texts created for class purposes by extracting from much larger texts. In some cases, the extracts have been suggested by a variety of commercial sourcebooks.
                                                                                            • Texts scanned in from printed material. In some cases the printed book may be recent, but the material scanned is out of copyright.
                                                                                            • Texts sent to me for inclusion.
                                                                                            • Links to other online texts. In almost all these cases I have made local copies, so please inform me if links no longer work.

                                                                                            Efforts have been made to confirm to US Copyright Law. Any infringement is unintentional, and any file which infringes copyright, and about which the copyright claimant informs me, will be removed pending resolution.

                                                                                            Links to files at other site are indicated by [At some indication of the site name or location].

                                                                                            Locally available texts are marked by [At this Site].

                                                                                            WEB indicates a link to one of small number of high quality web sites which provide either more texts or an especially valuable overview.

                                                                                            The Modern History Sourcebook is part of the Internet History Sourcebooks Project . The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is located at the History Department of Fordham University, New York. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and other medieval components of the project, are located at the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.The IHSP recognizes the contribution of Fordham University, the Fordham University History Department, and the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies in providing web space and server support for the project. The IHSP is a project independent of Fordham University. Although the IHSP seeks to follow all applicable copyright law, Fordham University is not the institutional owner, and is not liable as the result of any legal action.

                                                                                            © Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 22 Sept 1998: latest revision 9 April 2019

                                                                                            The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is located at the History Department of Fordham University, New York. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and other medieval components of the project, are located at the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.The IHSP recognizes the contribution of Fordham University, the Fordham University History Department, and the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies in providing web space and server support for the project. The IHSP is a project independent of Fordham University. Although the IHSP seeks to follow all applicable copyright law, Fordham University is not the institutional owner, and is not liable as the result of any legal action.

                                                                                            © Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 20 January 2021 [CV]

                                                                                            The History Department and the Graduate Program

                                                                                            The University of Virginia, founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, is a medium-sized state university of 17,500 students. It is also, as Jefferson envisioned, an institution which attracts students from all parts of the nation and the world.

                                                                                            The graduate program in history is designed to provide professional training in history, with the expectation that most of its Ph.D. graduates will take teaching positions in colleges and universities. In recent years our graduates have accepted appointments at Brown, Cornell, Duke, Princeton, Rutgers, Texas, Utah, the University of Wisconsin, Yale, and the University of Michigan, as well as at smaller colleges such as Davidson, Reed, Kenyon, William and Mary, and Williams and at regional universities such as Alabama, Florida State, North Carolina at Greensboro, and Texas A&M. Some of our graduates take non-academic positions: in recent years these jobs have included positions in banking and business firms, university libraries, government agencies, congressional staffs, and the Foreign Service. The department has a Placement Officer who helps Ph.D. candidates secure academic positions and cooperates with University Career Services to direct graduates to opportunities in other fields.

                                                                                            The Corcoran Department of History offers courses of study leading to the Ph.D. degree. Students typically earn M.A. degrees after the second year en route to the Ph.D. The department does not normally offer a stand-alone M.A. program. In addition, the department offers, in collaboration with the University of Virginia School of Law, a joint J.D./M.A.program in legal history. Approximately forty history graduate students are in residence in Charlottesville each year, of whom ten to twelve are in their first year of graduate work.

                                                                                            Faculty and Fields

                                                                                            Graduate instruction and research are offered in the following fields of world history.

                                                                                            American History—Colonial and early national, southern, social, cultural, economic, intellectual, and nineteenth and twentieth-century political and diplomatic history are strongly represented. In addition, American history offerings are enriched by the existence of an excellent legal history program, whose director teaches American legal history the Miller Center of Public Affairs the International Center for Jefferson Studies connected to Monticello, and the Carter G. Woodson Institute of African-American and African Studies, established in 1981, which bring research scholars from all over the country to Charlottesville. Many history graduate students also take advantage of the strong courses in American literature given by the English Department, and relevant seminars in Anthropology, Art History, Religious Studies, Sociology, and Politics.

                                                                                            East Asia—There is a growing East Asia program with courses on Japan, China, and Korea. Students train in languages and related disciplines. The department brings scholars from around the world to participate in the instructional program.

                                                                                            Early Modern World—Ph.D. students focusing on the early modern world, ca. 1400-1800, study with faculty members whose work incorporates a broad range of geographic specializations and methodological approaches to the early modern world.

                                                                                            Europe—Here the department can offer unusually broad coverage, with courses in French, German, Italian, British, and Russian history, as well as separate fields in Ancient, Medieval, and Jewish history. Social, cultural, and intellectual history, as well as political and diplomatic history and the history of science are well represented. Extensive resources outside the department in European literature and languages may be drawn upon, including a Center for Russian and East European Studies. In recent years Ph.D. students trained in the department in European history have won Fulbright, Mellon, FLAS, DAAD, German Marshall, and other fellowships to carry on their doctoral research abroad. The University also has several of its own fellowships for study abroad, including an annual exchange program with the Ecole Normale Supérior in Paris.

                                                                                            International History—The History Department has great strength in international history, a capacious field of study that has developed a rich historiography in recent years. Historians working in this area tend to examine subjects that cross borders and are unmoored from a purely national historical context. For example, international history includes the history of imperialism and colonization, economic and financial arrangements among states, diplomacy and statecraft, comparative ideologies, human rights, the cultural dimensions of international relations, war and its impact upon society, migration and refugees, genocide, epidemics and public health, cross-border movements of ideas, goods, and people, and the place of non-governmental organizations in the modern world. Core faculty in this field include William Hitchcock, Melvyn Leffler, Erik Linstrum, Jim Loeffler, Christian McMillen, Brian Owensby, Jeff Rossman, Steve Schuker, David Singerman, and Philip Zelikow.

                                                                                            Jewish History—The Jewish history program leads the field in its concentration on linking traditional areas of scholarship, such as Zionism, antisemitism, and the Holocaust to emerging fields in the larger arena of historiography, including the history of human rights, forced migration, and genocide, legal history, the history of international institutions, and memory studies. Faculty have also worked closely with Jewish Studies specialists in musicology, art history, and literature to promote new directions in cultural history, including sound studies, visual aesthetics, and the history of emotions.

                                                                                            Latin America—Four historians of Latin America, along with a large Spanish and Portuguese department, offer opportunities for study of the colonial and modern periods, with special attention to Spanish South America, and Brazil.

                                                                                            Middle East—Three historians of the Middle East cover the early modern and modern periods, with support from area specialists in Religious Studies, Politics, and Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures. The program’s strengths are in the interdisciplinary study of the early modern Mediterranean and Ottoman Empire and 20th-century state formation, colonization, gender, and war.

                                                                                            Science, Technology, and the Environment—Seven historians at the University of Virginia conduct research on subjects related to history of science, history of technology, and environmental history. Ph.D. students in this program may work with professors in the Department of History as well as with professors with joint appointments in History and the School of Engineering, which has a program in Science, Technology, and Society.

                                                                                            South Asia—The study of South Asia and India is enhanced by strong supporting faculties in Anthropology, Religious Studies, and Languages, all associated with the University's Center for South Asian Studies and one of the country's leading South Asian libraries.

                                                                                            Resources and Advisors

                                                                                            All history graduate students draw heavily on Alderman Library, a research library of four million volumes, with a working collection suitable for advanced studies and research. Alderman, an open-stack library, is easy to use and is located at the center of the University grounds. The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library holds about ten million manuscripts and rare books the collection of material on American southern history is among the richest in the country, as is the collection in American literature. In addition, many history students take advantage of the immense resources of the nearby Library of Congress and of other unique historical depositories in Washington, D.C., such as the Folger Shakespeare Library and the United States National Archives.

                                                                                            A graduate student entering the department will probably note first that the moderate size of the student body and the relatively large size of the faculty has created an informal and mutually supportive scholarly community. Each entering student is assigned a faculty advisor but is encouraged to seek advice from other teachers and ultimately to choose a thesis advisor on the basis of individual interest. Ultimately, all students work with a committee of selected advisors. And because classes include students at all stages of their graduate careers, beginning students quickly meet advanced students and learn to benefit from their experience.


                                                                                            It is wise to begin planning for graduate study at least a year before one's intended date of entry. Initial inquiries in the spring, summer, or early fall entrant, bring information in time to take the Graduate Record Examinations in October and to have scores forwarded to chosen universities well in advance of the December 15 deadline for PhD applications (scores from the December test rarely arrive in time) and May 1 for MA applications. Requests for transcripts and letters of reference should also be made early to allow time for confirmation from the Department and for follow-up if necessary. Notice of admission and awards of financial aid are made once each year, in spring, for the coming full academic term. The Department will notify applicants of missing elements of their application files, but responsibility for submitting a complete application eligible for review rests with the applicant. For additional information, see Application Procedure.

                                                                                            Housing and The Student Body

                                                                                            The University itself is cosmopolitan. About a third of the undergraduates in the College of Arts and Sciences come from outside the state, as do the great majority of the students in the graduate school. An assiduous recruiting program has resulted in a significant and gratifying increase in minority enrollments as well as international students.

                                                                                            Student housing includes dormitories for single men and women and married-student units constructed by the University. There are also many apartment units and townhouse complexes within convenient walking distance of the University. Most graduate students live in off-grounds housing. Applications and information for on- and off-grounds housing can be found on the Housing Division web page.

                                                                                            The information contained on this website is for informational purposes only. The Graduate Record represent the official repository for academic program requirements.

                                                                                            Watch the video: What is History for? (June 2022).


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