The cover of C. A. Bayly's new book is stunning. A handsome black man stands poised, next to the bust of a European philosopher. Blazoned across the corner of the cover is 'A Masterpiece', the judgement of Niall Ferguson, current favourite historian of the US media, on Bayly's book.
If we survey the historical profession at the moment, there are plenty of academic squabbles going on, but the great debates that once divided historians seem to be in short supply. Time was when contests over the standard of living during the industrial revolution or about post-modernism and its application to the study of history would drive scholars into a frenzy of position taking.
Of the historians of politics in the late colonial and revolutionary period in American history, Jack P. Greene stands as one of the leading figures of the last half century.
As Antoinette Burton points out in the introduction to her newest work, The Trouble with Empire: Challenges to Modern British Imperialism, there has been no shortage of blockbusters about the British Empire to be found on the shelves of local booksellers. Many of these take for granted the rise and fall narrative of Empire.
How does one define empire? What are the characteristics of a successful empire? These two questions arise foremost after reading John Darwin’s monumental masterpiece After Tamerlane. In nine succinct chapters with informative titles, Darwin encompassed 600 years of global history, supported by illustrations and maps and for those interested, suggestions for further reading.
Matthew Karp’s This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy seeks to explain the worldview of elite Southern slave-owners in the antebellum era.
One might be forgiven for thinking that British defence policy between the Napoleonic era and the outbreak of the First World War was always geared towards a large, continental commitment.