Book Review: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party

Download PDF

Author Biography

Alex Riggs is an MA History student at the University of Nottingham. He will be starting a Midlands4Cities funded PhD there in September, studying Ted Kennedy and Jesse Jackson’s presidential primary campaigns.

Book Review: ‘The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party’ by John Nichols

In recent years, the American left has experienced significant growth in its prominence on the national political stage. Bernie Sanders has twice finished second in Democratic Party presidential primaries, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become highly influential and the Democratic Socialists of America have expanded from around 6,000 members in 2015 to 66,000 in 2020.[1] In The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party, journalist and author John Nichols draws upon original archival research and oral history gathered throughout his journalistic career to argue that rather than an unprecedented phenomenon, the contemporary American left can call upon a significant historical tradition.

Alongside other recent historical works by journalists showcasing aspects of the Democratic Party’s left, including Ryan Grim’s exploration of the movement’s evolution from Jesse Jackson’s 1988 Presidential campaign to the present, and Jon Ward’s account of the 1980 Presidential Primaries between Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy, Nichols pinpoints the pivotal place of Henry Wallace in this history.[2] A Republican farmer turned ardent New Dealer and ally of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Wallace served as FDR’s Vice President in his third term.[3] With the President’s health ailing as he sought a fourth term in 1944, Southern segregationists and industrialists organised to replace Wallace as the Vice-Presidential nominee, winning a tightly contested vote to install Harry Truman, who would take office upon Roosevelt’s death in 1945.[4] For Nichols, this is the decisive moment in altering the Democrats’ ideological trajectory, bringing about an intellectual shift away from the politics of the New Deal and towards one which embraced a form of managerialism that precluded transformational change.[5]

The opening chapters focus on Wallace’s time as Vice-President, and Nichols effectively situates his politics within the Second World War context. Just as social democrats in Britain, India and Scandinavia looked to build an egalitarian society out of the destruction of the conflict, in an American context Henry Wallace championed similar causes, looking to build on the foundations laid by the Atlantic Charter, ‘Four Freedoms’, and Economic Bill of Rights to create a peaceful and just international settlement.[6] This context also meant a focus on the reasons for Fascism’s ascent in the 1930s, emphasising the need for economic security while simultaneously rooting out racism and xenophobia. Fighting ‘American fascism’ became a key part of Wallace’s speeches in the latter part of his Vice Presidency.[7] Nichols also demonstrates the resistance of the status quo to this agenda, including Winston Churchill’s anger at Wallace’s denunciations of imperialism and segregationists’ fury over his steadfast support for civil rights.[8] This leads Nichols to the conclusion that rather than failing on its own merits, it took a deliberate effort of groups whose power would have been diminished by Wallace’s agenda to undermine the ascendency of the New Deal.

Wallace faded into obscurity after his disastrous presidential run in 1948, so the remaining chapters of the book chronicle the Democratic left’s trajectory to the present. This begins in the 1950s, highlighting how the Republican administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower outflanked the Democrats in its progressivism on civil rights, economics, and foreign policy, most famously with its denunciation of the ‘Military-Industrial Complex’.[9] The analysis of the era’s presidents poses questions of Nichols’ key thesis, namely that Wallace’s removal from the Vice-Presidency constituted the end of the New Deal. If Eisenhower kept a Keynesian economic settlement, gradualist Civil Rights agenda and challenged confrontational foreign policy stances, can the New Deal really have ended in 1944? The book then skips over John F. Kennedy’s presidency, before briefly discussing the Johnson administration and its advances in Civil Rights legislation before being bogged down by the Vietnam War.[10] Given the complicated legacies of these Democratic presidents, having enacted important advancements in Civil Rights, the welfare state, and healthcare, but also overseeing the brutality of Vietnam, a discussion of how these figures related to the left and how they should feature in its history remains a significant omission.

The significance of grassroots groups is then highlighted, including Students for a Democratic Society, a key organisation in representing emerging student radicalism, whose alliance with civil rights, anti-war, and feminist groups would give birth to the ‘New Politics’ that increasingly defined the Democratic left from the late 1960s onwards.[11] Both Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy made use of these sentiments in the 1968 primaries, before George McGovern harnessed their support to gain the 1972 Presidential nomination.[12] One of the most effective parts of the book comes in its reading of the 1970s, showing how this decade, often pinpointed by historians as a battleground for the future of the nation, also affected the Democratic Party.[13] For Nichols, the 1970s represented another missed opportunity for the Party, as they rejected the chance to use this new base to counter increasingly organised right-wing interest groups and instead doubled down on the managerial politics that saw Democrats lose their position as the dominant party in the 1970s.[14] This is also shown through the role of Michael Harrington, a socialist activist who saw in the emergence of the ‘New Politics’ an opportunity to make the Democrats a vehicle for policies such as full employment and national health insurance. These policies became part of the 1976 Party platform, before significantly influencing Ted Kennedy’s 1980 bid for the presidential nomination.[15]

These battles over Party direction would continue into the 1980s as the Reagan presidency encouraged centrist Democrats further away from liberalism, whilst organisations like the Democratic Leadership Council emerged to ensure the Party remained orientated to the political centre. In this decade, Jesse Jackson, a civil rights activist and confidant of Martin Luther King, would become the standard bearer of this cause, running for the presidency in 1984 and 1988 on a platform that sought to represent the working-class constituencies most affected by the changes of Reaganism.[16] Though his supposed general election shortcomings were a key reason for his defeats in the primaries, Nichols interestingly highlights the significance of low turnout in urban areas and amongst young voters for the Democratic defeat of 1988, suggesting Jackson’s ability to galvanise these groups had potential as an alternative to centrism.[17] Despite this promise, however, the Democrats continued to compromise with right-wing policies on areas including criminal justice and financial deregulation during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Despite the initial liberal promise of the Obama campaign, a shift towards a transformational politics was not forthcoming, forcing the party to rely on Presidential charisma for electoral success, a tactic that obliterated its strength at the local level.[18] The book ends, however, on a hopeful note by highlighting the contemporary success of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a sign of the left’s strength, with these youth-powered campaigns providing optimism for future fulfilment of Wallace’s ideals.[19]

Nichols’ work is an important one, highlighting the possibility of alternative directions in post-war American politics and providing a welcome antidote to the histories of the Democrats that portray its left as an inconvenience, contributing nothing other than defeat.[20] However, Nichols’ role as an activist as well as an author means there are limits to its uses. As Ilhan Omar writes on the blurb, this is, ‘more than a history book- this is an examination of what progressives must do to retake our democracy’, showing how Nichols seeks to give today’s left a sense of purpose and historical grounding in its common cause with past political actors. Therefore, Nichols places greater emphasis on continuity in charting the history of this movement, highlighting the consistencies in political aims across time, to give a sense of tradition and legitimacy to the cause described. For instance, he describes Tom Hayden’s 1978 Senate manifesto as having, ‘anticipated the progressive politics of Ro Khanna, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the generation of leaders that would come to the fore in the late 2010s’.[21] Whilst it is correct to point out the continuities across these different contexts, Nichols’ approach obscures the variations that also exist across time. In particular, this overestimates the degree of separation between the Democratic left and the wider political environment.

Therefore, the ‘neo-consensus’ school of contemporary American political History, which minimises the divides of party, ideology and region in favour of highlighting areas of agreement across the spectrum, including convergence in criminal justice and neoliberalism, has use for building on Nichols’ work.[22] Although this school has mostly focused on areas of consensus across partisan lines, its theories could be applied by historians to the study of the Democratic left. This is applicable to the New Deal itself, which faced criticism for being insufficiently bold in its economic reforms from the likes of Huey Long and incorporated ideas that challenge its status as the height of progressivism. This included the facilitation of the conservative goal of repressing ‘subversives’ through the development of the FBI.[23] With regard to later periods, Geismer highlights how George McGovern played an instrumental role in popularising a political economy based around the high-tech sector, a cause commonly identified as instrumental to the agenda of ‘neoliberal’ politics in the 1980s.[24] Moreover, the Kennedy and Jackson campaigns were not inoculated from these developments. Kennedy was keen to highlight his role as a deregulator of the airline and trucking industries during his campaign, whilst Jackson’s campaign included a strong anti-drug message similar to the ‘Just Say No’ message of the Reagan administration.[25]

The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party, therefore, represents an important historiographical development by providing a more balanced history of the Democratic left, highlighting the left’s important intellectual contribution and exploring alternative directions in post-war American politics. Given that all historical works are influenced by the perspectives of their authors, this book should not be dismissed as that of an ideologue. Its limits, however, should be recognised. More work needs to be done to layout the ideological nuances of this important movement in American political history, to show how it adapted to the myriad of contexts that the post-war United States brought about, but Nichols provides a good starting point.

[1]             D. Henwood, ‘The Socialist Network’, The New Republic, 250/6 (June 2019), p.15; E. Godfrey, ‘Thousands of Americans Have Become Socialists Since March’, 04/08/2020.

[2]             R. Grim, We’ve Got People: From Jesse Jackson to AOC, the End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement (Washington D.C., 2019); J. Ward, Camelot’s End: Kennedy vs. Carter and the Fight that Broke the Democratic Party (New York, 2019).

[3]             J. Nichols, The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party (London, 2020), pp. xi-xii.

[4]             Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. 83-84

[5]             Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. xiv-xv.

[6]             Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. 4, 21-22.

[7]             Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. 60-61.

[8]             Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. 68-69.

[9]             Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. 146, 152-53.

[10]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. 155-56.

[11]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. 170-71.

[12]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. 160-61, 167, 171-73.

[13]           E. Berkowitz, Something Happened: A Political Cultural Overview of the Seventies (New York, 2006), p.1; T. Borstelmann, The 1970s: A New Global History from Civil Rights to Economic Inequality (Princeton, 2011), p.3.

[14]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp. 169-71.

[15]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp.183, 186-87.

[16]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp.198-99.

[17]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, p.200.

[18]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp.203,2 07-08, 215-16.

[19]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, pp.236-38.

[20]           R. Radosh, Divided they Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996 (New York, 1996), pp. x-xi, xiii.

[21]           Nichols, The Fight for the Soul, p.193.

[22]           B. Schulman, ‘Post-1968 U.S. History: Neo-Consensus History for the Age of Polarisation’, Reviews in American History, 47/3 (2019), pp.482-83.

[23]           ‘Huey Long’s Senate Speeches’,, accessed 09/09/20; K. O’Reilly, ‘A New Deal for the FBI: The Roosevelt Administration, Crime Control and National Security’, Journal of American History, 69/3 (1982), pp.638-39.

[24]           L. Geismer, Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party (Princeton, 2015), pp.164-65.

[25]           N. Birnbaum, ‘How Much of the Way with E.M.K.?’, The Nation, December 22, 1979, p.649; ‘Jackson Announcement’,, accessed 10/07/20


Primary Sources


Birnbaum, N., ‘How Much of the Way with E.M.K.?’, The Nation, (December 22, 1979), pp.648-51.


Godfrey, E., ‘Thousands of Americans Have Become Socialists since March’, 04/08/2020.


Geismer, L., ‘Jesse Jackson’s Political Revolution’, Jacobin, (Winter 2020), pp.103-06.


Henwood, D., ‘The Socialist Network’, The New Republic, (June 2019), pp.12-19.

‘Huey Long’s Senate Speeches’,, accessed 09/09/20.


‘Jackson Announcement’,, accessed 10/07/20.


Secondary Sources


Berkowitz, E., Something Happened: A Cultural and Political Overview of the Seventies (New York, 2006).


Borstelmann, T., The 1970s: A New Global History from Civil Rights to Economic Inequality (Princeton, 2011).


Geismer, L., Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party (Princeton, 2015).


Grim, R., We’ve Got People: From Jesse Jackson to AOC, The End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement (Washington D.C., 2019).


Nichols, J., The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party (London, 2020).


O’Reilly, K., ‘A New Deal for the FBI: The Roosevelt Administration, Crime Control and National Security’, Journal of American History, 69/3 (1982), pp.638-658.


Radosh, R., Divided they Fell: The Demise of the Democratic Party, 1964-1996 (New York, 1996).


Rodgers, D., Age of Fracture (Cambridge, 2011).


Schiller, R., ‘The Curious Origins of Airline Deregulation: Economic Deregulation and the American Left’, Business History Review, 93/4 (2019), pp.729-53.


Schulman, B., ‘Post-1968 U.S. History: Neo-Consensus History for the Age of Polarisation’, Reviews in American History, 47/3 (2019), pp.479-99.


Ward, J., Camelot’s End: Kennedy vs. Carter and the Fight that Broke the Democratic Party (New York, 2019).

Book Review: ‘Greek Military Service in the Ancient Near East, 401-330 BCE’ by Jeffrey Rop

Download PDF

Author Biography

Gillian Owen is a Masters Student studying Classics at the University of Nottingham. Gillian‘s interests cover a range periods and cultures centred around the Mediterranean. Her current dissertation focuses on the image of the sea in Etruscan burials.


Twitter: @Gillianowen97

Book Review: ‘Greek Military Service in the Ancient Near East, 401-330 BCE’ by Jeffrey Rop

Gillian Owen


Jeffery Rop’s, ‘Greek Military Service in the Ancient Near East,’ questions several of the core theories around the use of Greek mercenaries in the 4th century, providing a critical analysis of ancient sources and modern scholarship. His book serves as a reply to several comprehensive accounts of Persian and Egyptian military history, such as Stephen Ruzicka’s, ‘Trouble in the West,’ and John Hyland’s, ‘Persian Interventions’, both of which serve as the inspiration for this book.  Rop’s core argument is a reconsideration of the ‘Greek thesis’ – a term coined by Pierre Briant, referring to the trend in modern scholarship to accept accounts of Greek military superiority.  Through a series of case studies, Rop challenges the ideas of Greek military superiority presented by the Greek thesis; offering alternative reasons for the presence of Greek mercenaries in the Persian and Egyptian armies that go beyond the theory that they were selected as superior, hoplite troops. He uses this to contest the notion that the appearance of these troops was a sign of the decline in the Achaemenid Empire in the 4th century. Rop’s overarching argument addresses two core theories. First, the Greek thesis is a misconception created by the ancient sources, and perpetuated in modern scholarship. Second, Greek soldiers in foreign armies were not mercenaries, but were recruited through political alliances. Rop utilises a strong military history approach, uncommon in current scholarship, to reconsider the evidence through a break-down of battle narratives. This method provides new insights and alternative versions of events that may explain the appearance of Greek mercenaries in foreign armies.


The book is aimed at scholars, drawing heavily from modern debate.  However, Rop also intends it to be accessible to a more general audience.  Its intrinsic relation to modern debate and reconceptualization of certain events and ideas, requires at least, a basic understanding of the period, if not the modern scholarship. Therefore, the book is perhaps more suited to specialist Greek, Persian and Egyptian military and/or political historians; especially as the book is inciting a new take on this field. This should not deter undergraduates from approaching the book, as Rop’s clear presentation of his arguments and modern debate makes it accessible to those willing to fully engage with Rop’s arguments and analysis. Throughout the book, Rop supports his arguments with basic contexts and diagrams where necessary, enabling it to be read by a range of audiences and providing an inroad into modern discussions. The opening of the book provides general geographical maps and campaign routes, many of which would be familiar to those with a background in Greek military studies. The more poignant diagrams appear in the battle narratives, as Rop provides basic visual reconstructions of the battle formations. These provide essential context and understanding for the argument, particularly for readers unfamiliar with military history and battle sequences. Rop’s analysis of the ancient sources and the literary techniques that influenced their accounts are, overall, worth consideration for future works addressing Greco-Persian political and military relations as they provide new insights and methodology. Discussion of the existing academic literature at the beginning of each section clearly situates the book within modern scholarship and challenges the reader to reconsider existing interpretations of Greek military history. As such, it is perhaps best read alongside other relevant works – although Rop provides enough scholarly context for all his arguments to be understood as a standalone piece.


The introductory chapter provides the foundations to the rest of the book. Rop presents an account of contemporary historiography highlighting specific elements of scholarship that are addressed through the rest of the work. He also provides a background to his primary sources; outlines his key arguments and key terms; and explains his methodology in the chapter. The chapter is titled, ‘The Greek Thesis’, borrowing Briant’s term to describe the tendency of ancient and modern authors to attribute the presence of Greek soldiers in foreign armies as indicators of Greek military superiority.  This chapter explains the Greek Thesis, from its conception by the primary sources, through to modern scholarship. Rop establishes the existing arguments and justifies the need for his book.  Rop’s secondary argument, exploring political motivations for the hire of Greek mercenaries, is also established here.  This argument challenges the idea that the Achaemenid Empire was in decline, and is developed much more in chapters three and six. He argues that Persia had political influence in Greece and was not reliant on Greek military power. The two literary tropes that Rop draws on throughout his critique of the ancient sources – the dynamic subordinate and the tragic advisor – are defined in this chapter, as a reference for the later discussions.  Overall, the first chapter provides a solid basis for Rop to develop his own analyses in the subsequent chapters.

The second chapter, ‘The Battle of Cunaxa’, addresses the revolt of Cyrus the Younger, with the aid of the Greek contingent known as the Ten Thousand, against his brother King Artaxerxes II in 401BC.  It is the first of two chapters in the book that deeply analyse one source through one event.  In this chapter, Rop considers Xenophon’s account of the battle of Cunaxa, discussing the literary techniques and biases of Xenophon. Xenophon is the generally preferred account for Cunaxa, as sources for battle narratives can vary dramatically.  An example of this would be Xenophon’s and Diodorus’ account of the battle of Aegospotami, as they display remarkable differences; such as the way in which the Spartans attack the Athenian ships.  Rop presents a critical analysis of the source and battle tactics to argue that Xenophon created a false perception of the Greeks’ role in the battle. His analysis aims to combat two assumptions about the battle: one, that the Greeks were the best on the battlefield; secondly, that Cyrus ordered his Greeks to advance against the King in the centre. Rop develops a battle reconstruction to suggest that these ideas came about due to Xenophon’s narrative techniques, for example, his use of focalisation highlighted the achievement of the Greeks, creating the impression that the Greek contingent was more important than it was.


The third chapter, ‘Greece and the Rebellion of Cyrus the Younger’, continues the discussion of chapter two and addresses a potential hole in the argument. The previous chapter argued against Greek superiority as the motive for their inclusion in Cyrus’ army. Rop uses this chapter to suggest an alternative reason for their inclusion. He argues that Greek troops were more loyal than the Persians troops, contesting the argument that mercenaries were unreliable, as they were motivated by money. Rop develops the argument that Greek mercenaries were contracted through patron-client relationships, similar to the Greek idea of xenia. Similar ideas have been presented by Trundle as he discusses how ritualised friendship was common in mercenary relationships.  Rop, however, expands this beyond what has been considered previously. He regards the concept of xenia in a Greco-Persian context, exploring how the power difference created a form of patron-client relationship that differed from the Greek concept of xenia – which was between equals. He argues that Greek mercenaries were contracted through personal relations to powerful Persian figures, who could support their personal ambitions in return for military service. He uses this idea to explain the Greeks’ loyalty to Cyrus over the wealthier Artaxerxes, as their personal relations to Cyrus allowed him to offer different incentives.  His presentation of Cyrus’ army as a chain of patron relationships, and the political implications of the chapter, present a particularly interesting argument within the book and for the definition of a mercenary. It is something to be considered in future scholarship.

Chapter four takes a different approach than the rest of the chapters, as Rop discusses pairs of figures; exploring the use of the dynamic subordinate and tragic advisor trope. The dynamic subordinate relates to accounts where a subordinate, in these cases a Greek, out performs their superior – here a Persian or Egyptian commander. The Tragic advisor trope refers to a case when the commander ignores the advice of another and subsequently fails. The lack of event focus creates a slight disjoint between the sections, as discussions of the specific individuals rely on a solid understanding of events between 400-360 BC. This can be aided slightly by use of the timeline provided at the start of the book. Each subsection within the chapter works as a separate unit, highlighting a case where the dynamic subordinate, and/or the tragic advisor is present. As such, the chapter requires Rop’s preliminary conclusion, found at the end of the chapter, to draw all the arguments together.  The chapter considers five pairs: Conon and Pharnabazus, Chabrias and Acoris, Agesilaus and Tachos, Agesilaus and Nectanebos, and Iphicrates and Pharnabazus, the latter being the longest and most comprehensive. The discussions surrounding these pairings presents a convincing case for the use of the dynamic subordinate and tragic advisor as a cause for misconceptions over the superiority of Greek generals, but, suffers from a slight sense of repetition, as the same tropes are discussed across all five case studies. Rop’s analysis provides interesting breakdowns of individuals’ contributions, strategies, and the two tropes, but could have been supplemented by a slightly broader range of arguments, such as the value these individuals had in controlling their forces.  Rop suggests three conclusions for the chapter, with the argument against the superiority of the Greek generals being predominant. Rop’s other two conclusions; that Greek mercenaries were valued due to alliances, and that they were selected as specialist marines, are slightly overshadowed. It would have been interesting if Rop had made more of these conclusions in his individual pairs’ analysis, as it is not until the preliminary conclusion that their significance is strongly highlighted, although they are discussed throughout the chapter. Despite this slight criticism, the arguments covered in the chapter are presented well. Each pair is discussed thoroughly, and the preliminary conclusion highlights the key ideas while citing previous discussion in the chapter to support them.


Both chapter five and six consider single events. Chapter five discusses the revolt of Artabazus, while the sixth chapter considers the Persian conquest of Egypt through a critique of Diodorus. Rop uses these chapters to reinforce ideas that have been previously presented, displaying how Rop uses this book to effectively argue a couple of key theories, by exploring them in different situations. The revolt of Artabazus, a relatively minor part of Persian history, is discussed in chapter five as it strongly pertains to Rop’s critique of the Greek thesis, as it presents the only case of the threat of Greek mercenaries being officially recognised by a Persian king.  Through this chapter, Rop challenges the Greek thesis by questioning the validity of the mercenaries’ decree and the accuracy of the sources’ accounts.  The chapter highlights a key agenda of Rop’s book, as he uses the revolt of Artabazus to illustrate how easily modern scholarship accepts accounts that support the Greek thesis. Rop’s methodology in addressing this event, displays how an in-depth critique of the sources can produce different interpretations of events; something he wants contemporary scholars to do in regards to the Greek thesis. In contrast, chapter six uses one source to analyse one event. In his analysis of the event, Rop re-engages several of his previous arguments, such as the dynamic subordinate and tragic advisor trope, in a new context. His argument that the Greek mercenaries were valued as sailors and marines is discussed at length in this chapter. The chapter displays how Rop’s book is building an in-depth case for the reconsideration of a few key ideas, rather than an extensive exploration of a wide variety of events and theories.


The final two chapters discuss the appearance of Greek mercenaries in the Persian armies, opposing Macedonian conquest. Rop discusses the appearance of Greeks in the three main battles against Alexander the Great: Granicus River, Issus, and Gaugamela. Chapter Seven focuses in particular on the contributions of Memnon of Rhodes to the Persian army, arguing that he has a more modest role than the sources convey. The highlight of these two chapters is Rop’s battle narratives, as he presents a lucid summary of the strategies used in these three key battles. He supplements this with simple, yet effective, diagrams displaying the battle lines, providing key visual tools to outline the battles’ progress. Chapter eight’s primary value is Rop’s military analysis, as he uses it to counteract the idea that the Persians depended on Greek mercenaries. Rop suggests that the Greeks appear in the Persian armies as a way for them to unofficially oppose Alexander. He suggests that they required Persian aid, rather than the Persian generals being reliant on superior Greek forces. The arguments of these latter chapters, while still relevant and convincing, are perhaps less impactful on Rop’s overall discussion on the Greek thesis and political motivations for the hiring of Greek mercenaries. Unlike some of the previous chapters, the conclusions here do not pose vastly significant changes to the dynamic of Greco-Persian relations.


Rop’s work presents an in-depth analysis of the ancient sources and offers a new take on conventional theories in Greek and Near Eastern military history. Rop’s work deviates from the often-Greek centric narrative and manages to presents a concise and well-rounded picture of Greco-Persian and Egyptian military history, that does an impressive job of considering sub-context and dynamics obscured by the primarily Greek source base. Rop’s book manages to address a hole in contemporary scholarship highlighted by Gómez-Castro, who acknowledges historian’s strong reliance on their sources and their fear of speculative analysis.   Rop’s method of combining military history with several literary approaches is innovative and highlights how this type of speculative analysis can provide interesting and new interpretations. Throughout the book, Rop successfully highlights the need for a reconsideration of the Greek thesis and reinterpretations of Greek mercenary actions. Rop’s suggestion for the political implications of Greek mercenaries, particularly the idea of a patron-client relationship, presented an interesting take on Greco-Persian relationships that appears worth considering by future works on 4th century history.  Rop’s book has opened up a challenge to some of the more conventional ideas and it will be interesting to observe future academic dialogue raised in response to his critiques.




Bigwood, J. M., ‘The Ancient Accounts of the Battle of Cunaxa’, The American Journal of Philology 104(4) (1983), pp. 340-357.

Briant, P., From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire, Daniels, P. T. (trans.)(Indiana, 2002).

Gómez-Castro. D. ‘Ancient Greek Mercenaries: Facts, Theories and New Perspectives’, War & Society, 38(1) (2019), pp. 2-18.

Hyland, J., Persian Interventions: The Achaemenid Empire, Athens, and Sparta, 450-386 BCE (Baltimore, 2018).

Rop, J., Greek Military Service in the Ancient Near East, 401-330 BCE (New York, 2019).

Ruzicka, S., Trouble in the West: Egypt and the Persian Empire 525-332 (Oxford, 2012).

Strauss, B. ‘Aegospotami Reexamined’, The American Journal of Philology, 104 (1) (1983), pp. 24-35.

Trundle, M., Greek Mercenaries: From the Late Archaic Period to Alexander (London and New York, 2004).



Book Review: Horden, P. and Purcell, N., The Boundless Sea: Writing Mediterranean History (London, 2020)

Book Review: Horden, P. and Purcell, N., The Boundless Sea: Writing Mediterranean History (London, 2020)

Link to PDF

Nicholas Thompson

Unlike this year’s Wolfson History Prize Winner The Boundless Sea: A Human History of Oceans, The Boundless Sea: Writing Mediterranean History (hereafter, Boundless) focuses on methods of approaching the Mediterranean.[1] Boundless is a reflection on The Corrupting Sea (hereafter, Corrupting) and the developments of Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell’s approach over the last two decades.[2] In Corrupting, Horden and Purcell presented the Mediterranean holistically, discussing prehistory, antiquity, and the Middle Ages through ecological, anthropological, and geographical analyses. In 2001, Brent Shaw admired Corrupting’s vision of replacing Fernand Braudel’s 1949 definitive text on Mediterranean history ‘with something better’ and Corrupting’s second volume – discussing climate, disease, demography, and interactions with other regions – remains eagerly awaited.[3] In Boundless, Horden and Purcell summarise Corrupting as providing a focus on ‘common ecological denominators’ to develop study of the Mediterranean region.[4]

Boundless comprises eleven previously published articles and one new chapter which are loosely grouped in central themes: rebuttal to Corrupting’s critics (1-3); economy and power (4-7); and water (9-12).  Chapter eight, the only previously unpublished article, bridges discussions of economy and water, presenting water mills as economic development markers. The lack of definition of these themes hampers formation of an overarching argument. Thus, despite edits removing some overlaps and replacing the authorial ‘I’ with ‘we’ in cases of solo authorship, the volume feels disjointed.[5]

As most of the chapters have been published previously, their initial purpose does not always align with their intended function in Boundless. This may be seen most clearly in chapter one which began The American Historical Review’s 2006 forum entitled ‘Ocean History’.[6] Kären Wigen introduced its study of maritime regions as one of ‘modern cultural constructs’ with Horden and Purcell attributing maritime regions’ instability to their being ‘essentially contested’.[7] Horden and Purcell use ‘seaborne connectivity’ to mend this instability, quoting Socrates’ observation that Greeks lived ‘around the sea like…frogs around a pool’ and others lived ‘elsewhere in many such places’.[8] The omission of Wigen’s introduction alters the dynamic of the article. With Wigen’s introduction, the article presented a chronological starting point for discussing similar cultural constructs in the Atlantic and Pacific. Without it, Horden and Purcell’s hopes of refining ‘the ways in which we frame a global history’ lack the outlook they initially held, now beginning a volume focused on Mediterranean history.[9]

In chapter eight, Horden and Purcell consider 500 to 1000 AD the best period for assessing interactions between Northwest Europe and the Mediterranean as it charts the realignment of Europe following the collapse of the Roman Empire.[10] They present the Mediterranean during this period as a ‘crucible of institutions and techniques that will…come to seem simply European’.[11] Horden and Purcell begin by quoting Dr Johnson’s remarks about touring sites from antiquity, ‘almost all that sets us [Europeans] above savages, has come to us from the shores of the Mediterranean’.[12] Horden and Purcell temper this with Michael Herzfeld’s 2003 concept that Mediterraneanism was equivalent to European orientalism, with Mediterraneans as ‘other’.[13] They consider the Mediterranean a characteristic set of special relationships, unhampered by geographical confines.

The debate between understanding the Mediterranean as innovative, ultimately shaping European developments, and understanding the Mediterranean as ‘backward’, is summarised as developments being Mediterranean imports or ‘endogenous to northern Europe’.[14] This controversy takes up the majority of the chapter, discussed through a literature review of Corrupting (2000), Michael McCormick’s Origins of the European Economy (2001), and Chris Wickham’s Framing the Early Middle Ages (2005) and The Inheritance of Rome (2009).[15] The works are grouped into two viewpoints, firstly that the Mediterranean maintained ‘a continued “connectivity”’ despite declining trade (Corrupting and McCormick).[16] Secondly, there was a ‘systemic break’ in the seventh century separating ancient and medieval economic models (Wickham).[17]

Wickham’s Marxist approach directs his focus to ‘modes of production’ from slave to feudal to peasant; the latter, Horden and Purcell suggest, is Wickham’s creation.[18] Wickham uses bulk good trade over moderate distances as his economic marker regarding McCormick’s marker, long-distance luxury trade, as ‘surface gloss’.[19] Horden and Purcell temper Wickham’s endogenous understanding of Northwest European economics with Mediterranean agricultural developments.[20] They cite Roman bipartite estate management amongst Carolingians and the spread of water mills throughout Europe by Roman soldiers.[21] Irish and Italian monastic records demonstrate widespread European usage of water mills by the seventh century AD.[22] Thus modified, Horden and Purcell repurpose Wickham’s arguments as evidence for Mediterranean farming technology causing agrarian intensification in northern Europe which generated wealth and demand for luxuries.[23]

The final chapters return to water with Horden’s 2002 Linacre Lecture concerning Water Management, originally delivered to an interdisciplinary audience of scientists and arts scholars.[24] Chapter eleven hints at Horden and Purcell’s ideas for Corrupting’s sequel. It originally began the ‘Framing Saharan Africa’ section of McDougall and Scheele’s Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest Africa.[25] Horden argues to replace Braudel’s argument that the Sahara was ‘the second face of the Mediterranean’.[26]  Instead, Horden contrasts the ‘introversion’ of the Mediterranean compared with the Sahara’s interconnectivity.[27] He concludes that better comparisons for Saharan connectivity are interconnected regions like the Great Lakes or Philippine archipelago. Despite noting that Benedetta Rossi (2015) argues for Braudel’s model to be reinstated, Horden offers no further defence, hopefully this will come in Corrupting’s sequel.[28] Thus, although suited to a volume discussing Northwest Africa, this chapter clashes with Boundless’ focus on approaches to Mediterranean history and seems more suited to the frontier-exploring second volume of Corrupting. This disconnect highlights Boundless’ identity crisis between being a collection of essays discussing study of the Mediterranean or Corrupting’s sequel.

In summary, Boundless presents the key points of Horden and Purcell’s works of the last two decades in an easily accessible manner. These articles come from a wide range of fields, demonstrating the scope and influence of Horden and Purcell’s ideas, and the impact of Corrupting. Chapters range from ancient to early modern history, studies of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, archaeology, and social anthropology. It is therefore improbable that readers will be familiar with all topics covered, but this breadth is the book’s success. An ancient historian may be interested in chapter six’s discussion of ancient maritime taxation but find useful material concerning the development of Mediterranean economics in chapter five’s discussion of ‘meshwork’ in Mediterranean cities and chapter eight’s discourse of agrarian technologies. Many readers would benefit from reading the original publications of the chapters to understand the initial role the articles fulfilled. For example, chapter one focuses on developing a style for approaching maritime ecologies generally because it precedes articles concerning the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Ultimately, Boundless whets the reader’s appetite for the forthcoming sequel to Corrupting, now two decades in the making, which will provide more room for Horden and Purcell’s ideas to be explored.




Abulafia, D., The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans (London, 2019).

Braudel, F., La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l’époque de Philippe II (Paris,     1949).

Coswell, J., Hill, G. B. (ed.), and Powell, L. F. (rev.), Boswell’s Life of Johnson (Oxford, 1936).

Games, A., ‘Atlantic History: Definitions, Challenges, and Opportunities’, American Historical   Review, Forum: ‘Oceans of History’, 111/3 (2006), 741-757.

Herzfeld, M., ‘Practical Mediterraneanism: Excuses for Everything, from Epistemology to Eating’, in Harris, W. V. (ed.), Rethinking the Mediterranean (Oxford, 2003), 45-63.

Horden, P., ‘Water in Mediterranean History’ in Trottier, J. and Slack, P. (eds), Managing      Water Resources Past and Present: The Linacre Lectures 2002 (Oxford, 2004), 35-49.

Horden, P., ‘Mediterranean Excuses: Historical Writing on the Mediterranean since Braudel’,             History and Anthropology, 16 (2005), 25-30.

Horden, P., ‘Situations Both Alike?: Connectivity, the Mediterranean, the Sahara’, in J.           McDougall and J. Scheele (eds), Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest    Africa (Bloomington, IN., 2012), 25-38.

Horden, P. and Purcell, N., The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History (Oxford,           2000).

Horden, P. and Purcell, N., ‘The Mediterranean and ‘The New Thalassology’’, American         Historical Review, Forum: ‘Oceans of History’, 111/3 (2006), 722-40.

Horden, P. and Purcell, N., The Boundless Sea: Writing Mediterranean History (London,           2020), vii.

Matsuda, M. K., ‘The Pacific’, American Historical Review, Forum: ‘Oceans of History’, 111/3       (2006), 758-780.

McCormick, M., Origins of the European Economy (Cambridge, 2001).

McDougall, J. and Scheele, J. (eds), Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest               Africa (Bloomington, IN., 2012).

Plato, Phaedo 109b in Emlyn-Jones, C. and Preddy, W. (eds and trans), Plato: Euthyphro;          Apology; Crito; Phaedo (Cambridge, MA., 2017).

Rossi, B. From Slavery to Aid: Politics, Labour, and Mobility in the Nigerian Sahel, 1800-2000      (Cambridge, 2015).

Shaw, B. D., ‘Challenging Braudel: a new vision of the Mediterranean’, Journal of Roman     Archaeology 14 (2001), 419-453.

Wickham, C., Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800          (Oxford, 2005).

Wickham, C., The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000 (London,          2009).

Wigen, K., ‘Introduction’, American Historical Review, Forum: ‘Oceans of History’, 111/3       (2006), 717-721.

[1] D. Abulafia, The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans (London, 2019).

[2] P. Horden and N. Purcell, The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History (Oxford, 2000).

[3] B. D. Shaw, ‘Challenging Braudel: a new vision of the Mediterranean’, JRA 14 (2001), 419-453, 419. Referencing F. Braudel, La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l’époque de Philippe II (Paris, 1949).

[4] P. Horden and N. Purcell, The Boundless Sea: Writing Mediterranean History (London, 2020), vii.

[5] Chapters 5, 8, 9, 11, and 12 are by Horden; 3, 4, 6, 7, and 10 are by Purcell.

[6] P. Horden and N. Purcell, ‘The Mediterranean and ‘The New Thalassology’’, American Historical Review, Forum: ‘Oceans of History’, 111/3 (2006), 722-40.

[7] K. Wigen, ‘Introduction’, American Historical Review, Forum: ‘Oceans of History’, 111/3 (2006), 717-721.

[8] P. Horden and N. Purcell, ‘The Mediterranean and ‘The New Thalassology’’, Boundless, 1-21, 13; Socrates in Plato, Phaedo 109b.

[9] The article preceded A. Games, ‘Atlantic History: Definitions, Challenges, and Opportunities’, and M. K. Matsuda, ‘The Pacific’, American Historical Review, Forum: ‘Oceans of History’, 111/3 (2006), 751-757 and 758-780.

[10] Boundless, 137.

[11] Ibidem.

[12] Dr Johnson, J. Coswell, G. B. Hill (ed.), and L. F. Powell (rev.), Boswell’s Life of Johnson, (Oxford, 1936), vol. 3, 36, Boundless, 136.

[13] M. Herzfeld, ‘Practical Mediterraneanism: Excuses for Everything, from Epistemology to Eating’, W. V. Harris (ed.), Rethinking the Mediterranean (Oxford, 2003), 45-63, P. Horden, ‘Mediterranean Excuses: Historical Writing on the Mediterranean since Braudel’, History and Anthropology, 16 (2005), 25-30; Boundless, 136.

[14] Boundless, 137, 136.

[15] Corrupting, Boundless, 137-144; McCormick, 144-147; Wickham, 147-149.

[16] Boundless, 152.

[17] Boundless, 150.

[18] Boundless, 147-148.

[19] Boundless, 148, 149.

[20] Boundless, 149-152.

[21] Boundless, 150-152.

[22] Boundless, 152.

[23] Boundless, 152.

[24] P. Horden, ‘Water in Mediterranean History’, J. Trottier and P. Slack (eds), Managing Water Resources Past and Present: The Linacre Lectures 2002 (Oxford, 2004), 35-49.

[25] P. Horden, ‘Situations Both Alike?: Connectivity, the Mediterranean, the Sahara’, J. McDougall and J. Scheele (eds), Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest Africa (Bloomington, IN., 2012), 25-38.

[26] J. McDougall and J. Scheele (eds), Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest Africa (Bloomington, IN., 2012), 5-6.

[27] Boundless, 201.

[28] B. Rossi, From Slavery to Aid: Politics, Labour, and Mobility in the Nigerian Sahel, 1800-2000 (Cambridge, 2015); Boundless, 205n.52.

Book Review: Sally Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England: Courtship, Emotions, and Material Culture (New York: Oxford, 2019)

In this article Samantha Armstrong reviews The Game of Love in Georgian England by Sally Holloway, recently published in January 2019. This book is a welcome exploration of the emotions of romance within the conceptualization of love in material and popular culture. The Game of Love in Georgian England investigates facets of the material culture of love through various objects including love letters, and gifts like love spoons. Sally Holloway studies courtship, and its breakdown as testified through the interconnection of these tangible objects and ideologies in popular culture.


Samantha Armstrong

Author biography

Samantha Armstrong is a second-year doctoral student in the history department at the University of Birmingham. Samantha’s research focuses on eighteenth-century women’s usages of kindness in their everyday lives.


Book Review: Sally Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England: Courtship, Emotions, and Material Culture (New York: Oxford, 2019)

Sally Holloway’s The Game of Love in Georgian England provides an important addition to the scholarship of emotions as expressed through material culture. She reveals Georgian love as an emotional practice observed through tangible objects.[1] Holloway considers Georgian courtship and the emotional range of love through two overarching questions: ‘How did couples contextualize and convey their emotions in words and objects?’ and, ‘How did they negotiate this potentially fraught period in their life cycle?’[2] Through exploring these questions, Holloway argues that from c. 1714 to 1840 courtship and breakdown were navigated through words and objects which constituted performative and ritualised acts.


Holloway’s work is a macro-study. She develops an argument about a cultural phenomenon that can be found amongst numerous people and objects. Holloway analysed men and women from a wide spectrum of society through their love letters: Anglicans, Unitarians, Quakers, genteel, elite, and middle class. For Holloway’s material component, she investigated objects from twenty-three different sources varying from museums to private collections. She studied a large spectrum of objects including common items like hair to the more esoteric exotic goods from the colonies or Far East. As a macro-history, Holloway builds a wider understanding of romantic love and objects which can serve as a starting point for the work of future scholars. However, Holloway’s macro-study does not account for the aberrations or smaller trends in romantic objects.  Thus, future scholars have an opportunity for micro-studies allowing development in the interconnection of emotions and objects. Holloway’s methodological process is well explained allowing for its use in follow-up macro-studies of other emotional objects, for example, affection and objects.


In order to analyze the love letters and objects, Holloway uses a number of approaches including anthropology and literary theory. These approaches are united by Clifford Geertz’s concept of ‘thick description.’ Geertz’s theory allows her to contextualize, situate, and unpick, to consider symbols, rituals, and meanings of romantic love held by individual couples.[3] These analytical tools allow Holloway to demonstrate that romantic love objects are situated in the marketplace and wider context of popular culture; the romantic objects are considered in various ways for their symbols, rituals and meanings. In sum, Holloway by using Geertz’s and other approaches presents the objects and words’ symbols, rituals, and, meanings in the performative and ritualised acts of love in Georgian England.


Holloway’s accessible writing style makes the potentially complex subject matter approachable to a non-academic audience. The book is organized into six chapters: ‘Language of Love’, ‘Love Letters’, ‘Love Tokens’, ‘The Marketplace of Love’, ‘Romantic Suffering’ and ‘Breach of Promise.’ Holloway starts by contextualizing the language of love for both genders to examine men and women’s love letters and tokens, and their marketplace of love. Once she examines the situation and contextualises romantic life, Holloway moves onto the breakdown of love by examining men and women’s romantic suffering and collapse of engagements. Holloway regularly considers gender and differences in presentation, understanding, and, completion of love. For example, Holloway argues that women were more reticent in their letters in expressing romantic sentiments because of their fear of repercussions should the relationship fail.[4] By doing this, Holloway is able to conceptualize her argument of ritualization of courtship and breakups expressed by words and objects; by first examining the objects and words for courtship and then for breakups.


In the chapter entitled ‘Language of Love’, Holloway pays attention to how couples experienced, conceived, and navigated love by asking ‘how did eighteenth century couples compose their love stories?’[5] Holloway argues that these various romantic lexicons provided the overarching frame for couples to navigate their courtship within the shared and gendered language of idioms of love.[6] This chapter is an important development in the field of romantic love because of Holloway’s three-prong analysis (religious, physical, and literary tropes). Other historians like Ingrid Tague argue about the dual nature of elite women’s romantic love. By convention women were supposed to be submissive, obedient, and dutiful, but through their practical navigation of expectations on them during their everyday lives women gained agency and power.[7] Unlike Tague, Holloway focusses on how the understanding of romantic love from popular culture was enacted by various men and women in their everyday lives in letters. The limitation of this chapter, however, is that popular culture does not mean a culture adhered to by everybody. Holloway does not address outliers or counter-culture movements. Consequently, in addressing popular culture, Holloway engages only with a broad and commonly held understanding of romantic love.


Considering the importance that Holloway gives to material objects, the following paragraphs will examine her material object methodology, usage, and findings.  Few historians have studied the material culture of courtship in the eighteenth century unlike in the scholarship of the sixteenth century. Amanda Vickery has examined the importance of objects in intimate everyday practices; however, Vickery’s work is based in the home and family.[8] Maxine Berg surveyed commercialization and consumption of objects by people but did not focus on romantic objects and instead focused on household items, clothing, and luxury.[9]  Holloway, unlike Berg and Vickery, studies objects in the practice of men and women’s love and courtship. The chapters entitled ‘Love Tokens’ and ‘Marketplace of Love’ are a solid addition to the field of romantic love because Holloway expands and underscores the importance of objects in the conceptualization and ritualization of romantic love for couples. First in ‘Love Tokens’, Holloway examines the highly ritualized ways couples engaged with gifted items that created or expedited experiences of love. All these objects are united with Holloway arguing that romantic gifts provided a key means for courting couples to negotiate the path to matrimony because these gifts gave a way to conceptualize and process their emotions. These emotions played a vital role in preserving the identity of the giver in memory, but also of creating symbolic objects of the couple’s emotional intimacy.[10] Second in ‘Marketplace of Love’ explores the newly commercialized range of romantic gifts and celebration of Valentine’s Day. Holloway argues that observance of romanticism coincided with the explosion in luxury goods and rise of leisure shopping activities resulting in love being packaged and sold to men and women through a new range of objects.[11] Thus, adding a new dimension to the study of material objects and ritualization of gift giving.


Previous work on courtrooms have focused on language, representation, and, social class without considering material objects. Holloway rectifies this oversight to a degree by examining what happened during a romantic breakdown, particularly those that played out in the courtroom.  For example, a court case where one defendant sued the other for breaking a promise of intention to marry. Holloway argues that by the 1790s romantic hurt characterized by fragility, beauty, nervous disposition, and, mental instability was presented uniquely as a female grievance. Conversely, men were presented as amorous, impetuous, and passionate. These discourses surrounding the genders were reflections of the changing discourse on love, and, breakups that occurred since the 1750s in popular culture.[12] Holloway discusses in depth the popular discourse about gendered romantic suffering in an earlier chapter. Further these discourses surrounding the genders was purposefully done in order to achieve the aim of compensating women for trauma and excusing men’s behaviour. Therefore, objects were of vital importance as proof of a relationship before the courts and society.[13] Holloway demonstrates that everyday objects had emotional and cultural significance to the judges and participants in understanding the relationships brought into the courtroom, thus, a solid addition to the field of material culture. Further work can be done on objects in other courtroom cases outside of breach of promise—not fulfilling the promise of marriage.


By interlinking each chapter, Holloway is emphasizing the ritualized nature of understanding, creating, and performing love. For example, after explicitly describing the language of love in the first chapter, Holloway repeats and strengthens those idioms by mentioning them in context of love letters, inscriptions on love tokens, crafting of Valentine’s cards, the gendered notions of romantic suffering, and, the gendered discourses of love in court cases. Several questions and omissions need to be addressed. While Holloway frames her work through ritualization, is ritualization of objects necessary to understand emotions and material culture? Can historians understand love through objects without ritualization? Furthermore, there is one glaring omission: LGBTQ love. Holloway writes that ‘romantic relationships between same-sex couples are beyond the scope of this book,’ with no further explanation or consideration.[14] Holloway does not explore same-sex couples, and, even overlooked alternative forms of love, because it was not topical to the question.[15] However, can historians understand the complex nature of ritualization of love in eighteenth century England without understanding all forms of love? LGBTQ considerations fall outside of what could be termed as popular culture in this period, therefore do heterosexual rituals of love reflect on queer rituals or does adding LGBTQ love destroy the understanding Holloway argued about heterosexual ritualized love? A future study on LGBTQ love and ritualization of love would greatly further the understanding of eighteenth century love.


The Game of Love is an impressive tome of scholarly accomplishment that brings together an impressive variety of sources, and, methodologies. Her scholarship adds significantly to the work on material culture by placing objects within the emotional practices of romantic love. In sum, Holloway’s work on Georgian love is a valuable source for historians of eighteenth century material culture, and of emotion


Berg, M. Luxury and Pleasure in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Oxford, 2005).

Holloway, S. The Game of Love in Georgian England: Courtship, Emotions, and Material Culture. (New York, 2019).

Milka, A., and Lemmings, D. ‘Narratives of Feeling and Majesty: Mediated Emotions in the Eighteenth-Century Criminal Courtroom.’The Journal of Legal History, 38 (2017), 155–78.

Shepard, A. ‘Poverty, Labour and the Language of Social Description in Early Modern England.’ Past and Present, 201 (2008), 51–95.

Tague, I.H. ‘Love, Honor, and Obedience: Fashionable Women and the Discourse of Marriage in the Early Eighteenth Century.’ Journal of British Studies, 40 (2001), 76–106.

Vickery, A. Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England. (New Haven, 2009).

———. The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England. (New Haven, 1999).

Walker, G. Crime, Gender and Social Order in Early Modern England. (Cambridge, 2003).

[1] S. Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England: Courtship, Emotions, and Materia Culture (New York, 2019), p. 15–16.

[2] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p. 14.

[3] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p. 5.

[4] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p. 67–68.

[5] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p. 22.

[6] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p. 7.

[7] I. H. Tague, ‘Love, Honor, and Obedience: Fashionable Women and the Discourse of Marriage in the Early Eighteenth Century,’ Journal of British Studies, 40 (2001), p. 76–106.

[8] A. Vickery, The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England (New Haven, 1999); A. Vickery, Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England (New Haven, 2009).

[9] M. Berg, Luxury and Pleasure in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Oxford, 2005).

[10] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p, 69–70.

[11] Holloway,The Game of Love in Georgian England,  p.93.

[12] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p. 164–65.

[13] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p. 164–65.

[14] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p. 12.

[15] Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England, p. 12.

Book Review: B. Simms, Britain’s Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation (London, 2016)

In this article, Robert reviews Britain’s Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation by Brendan Simms, published immediately prior to the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union in 2016. The book challenges the existing historical tradition that places Britain as exceptional due to its insular geography and instead gives an account of the centrality of European relations to British home and foreign policy, in the form of a narrative from the medieval period to the present, concluding with a section on modern relations with the European Union. The result is a stimulating read, though is not without shortcomings, most notably in relation to the brisk treatment given to the British Empire.



Robert Frost

Author Biography

Robert Frost (@RobertF32691246) is a first-year AHRC-funded doctoral student with joint Geography and History department supervision for his research on Georgian and early Victorian travel and exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean.

B. Simms, Britain’s Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation (London, 2016)

By suggesting that the history of England, and later that of the United Kingdom, has been one predominantly determined by its relationship with neighbouring Europe, as opposed to its geographical separation as an island, Brendan Simms propounds a subtle not entirely original, but stimulating paradigm shift in how British history should be viewed,  though by no means one without problems. Britain’s Europe offers a longue durée of over one-thousand years of political history, which covers both Britain’s international relations and its own constitutional development. Simms has two central arguments. First, British foreign policy has consistently been based on a grand strategy of preventing continental Europe from being dominated by a single power, especially in the Low Countries, though later moving east to an obsession with Halford Mackinder’s heartland theory. This was achieved time and again by the country building coalitions to oppose an expansionist power, whether King Phillip II’s Spain or Napoleon’s France. Second, the form of the United Kingdom’s own political geography has been primarily forged in response to its engagement with Europe. Simms traces the emergence of the English nation-state to Alfred the Great’s opposition to the Danes and interprets the Union of the Crowns and the Acts of Union as efforts to expand the resources of England and prevent encirclement by France. By contrast, the British Empire is portrayed solely as a means to increase Britain’s standing in Europe rather than as a legitimate enterprise in its own right. Simms also challenges other quasi-isolationist approaches, in particular the ‘Our island story’ narrative, as particularly grotesque distortions of a reality in which Britain has far more often than not been part of a cross-channel state in some form.[1] Though these ideas do not totally convince, they parallel other authors’ attempts at provincialisation. Simms’ lineage includes Hugh Kearney’s call for a four-nation ‘Britannic’ alternative to ‘self-contained’ histories of England, an approach widened again by Norman Davies’ efforts to set the whole of the British Isles in its European context, which is ultimately Simms’ starting-point.[2] Perhaps the ultimate provincialisation was Brotton’s consideration of Elizabethan England/ Britain in its relation with the geographically-proximate Islamic world, though like Simms, he summarises his approach as being to enrich British history rather than diminish it.[3]

Britain’s Europe consists of ten chapters, which are evenly-spaced chronologically after a brief account of the medieval period. Four-fifths of these offer a chronological narrative of Britain’s history, with interactions with Europe given the centre stage. ‘The Bonds of Christendom’ recounts English/ British-European relations up to the fifteenth century, starting in quite a traditional manner with Alfred’s response to Viking raiders leading to the formation of the English nation-state.[4] Simms reinterprets the Cinque Ports as a ‘cross-channel ferry service’ to link the Anglo-Norman/ French and later Angevin, domains.[5] Simms notes John of Gaunt (Ghent), whose speech is held highly by insular-focused historians such as Christopher Lee, had French origins, as many nobles did, while a common Christian culture provided the basis for crusader alliances.[6] ‘A piece of the continent’ outlines the origins of the (aforementioned) grand strategy that Simms forwards as taking place during national soul-searching after England’s defeat in the Hundred Years’ War.[7] The critical importance of the Low Countries, described as the ‘counter-scarp’ by William Cecil and ‘outworks’ by others, takes shape in an age of England’s navy having neither the technology nor ability to intercept a cross-channel force; the channel could only be a second line of defence.[8] Hence England made common cause with the Dutch early on.[9]

‘The bulwarks of Great Britain’ introduces the importance of Germany and its various incarnations, starting with the Holy Roman Empire, as a key counterbalancing power. Simms also argues that the overlooked union of ‘Hanover-Britain’ was a truly European state.[10] He includes the interesting vignette that before the late eighteenth century, those referring simply to ‘The Empire’ meant the Holy Roman Empire, but even when the expanding British Empire was in mind it was regarded as valuable only in terms of the increased strength it could bring on Europe, especially in territorial swaps such as after the Seven Years’ War.[11] ‘The Age of revolution’ on the French and American revolutionary wars serves as a warning as to what could happen when Britain sidelined continental engagement in favour of an imperial ‘blue water’ approach: the ‘first’ British Empire was partitioned.[12]

‘The age of Napoleon’ recounts what may be the best-known pre-twentieth century example of an isolated Britain bringing together a grand coalition and leading it to eventual victory.[13] Simms introduces the ‘fiscal-military’ state as a key advantage that Britain had over rival states, especially France. By way of an ‘implicit contract’ that had grown up between political elites and private finance over the preceding century, the country was able to tap into private wealth generated during the Industrial Revolution by way of credit. In turn, parliamentary democracy gave the British state greater legitimacy than others.[14] Simms also finds the threat from revolutionary France to be decisive in leading to the Act of Union with Ireland in 1800.[15] ‘Britain and Europe in the age of nationalism’ surveys the long nineteenth century, during which Britain was forced to contend with an acquiescent German confederation morphing into a rival German Empire under Bismarck, a transformation which made the self-centred British guarantee of Belgian independent-neutrality from France dangerously anachronistic in 1914.[16]

‘Britain and Europe in the age of total war’ covers Britain’s handling of the ‘German Question’; mobilising a global coalition to prevent domination of Europe by Germany in two world wars.[17] As in 1792-1815, Simms holds Britain’s parliamentary and ‘fiscal-military’ state as key, a conclusion also recently reached by Adam Tooze.[18] Irish independence is ignored however. The final chronological chapter is devoted to events since 1945 in which Britain faced a ‘negotiated merger’ with the European Economic Community and European Union rather than a ‘hostile takeover’, which, unlike earlier Acts of Union, diluted power in Westminster.[19] Simms is critical of the chances Britain might have had in the nascent European Coal and Steel Community, maintaining that such a move would have been catastrophic for domestic industry and still-strong Commonwealth links.[20]

The final two chapters break the chronological structure to bring in an analysis of present and future trends. The first, referring to Britain as ‘the last European great power’ provides a welcome critique of the post-war ‘declinist’ discourse which has dominated so much of recent historiography, often closer to ideology than reality.[21] The final chapter differs from previous ones by offering what  comes across as an attempt to opt out of expressing a concrete position on the referendum campaign then in its final stages, by offering a quixotic call for a radically-reformed English-speaking federal EU. Simms emphasises the need for this to be created in a sudden ‘event’ in the manner of Bismarck, as opposed to the ever-closer-union ‘process’.[22] In fact, it is an argument that Simms has forwarded on several occasions, both before and after the publication of Britain’s Europe, most recently presenting Emmanuel Macron as the new Bismarck.[23] It is also a watered-down summary of the manifesto of the Project for Democratic Union think tank, though Simms omits any mention of the group and his control of its presidency.[24] Despite this, the call seems cavalier and in conflict with the rest of Britain’s Europe. Recognising that Britain would not likely join a fully-federal “superstate”, even an English-speaking one, he brushes aside concerns of his millennial-length British grand strategy thesis by insisting that relations would be friendly due to mutual self-interest.[25] This has not however stopped grandstanding during current Brexit negotiations. The idea that a majority of Europeans would vote to relinquish any remaining national sovereignty appears unlikely, especially given the massive opposition to issues such as the proposal to overcome the shortcomings of the Dublin regulations by way of EU-directed settlement of migrants to Hungary and other central/ Eastern European countries. The reader is left puzzled as to why Simms seemingly disowns his own arguments of thousand-year precedent for the future. A comparison with the strong federal nature of Germany also makes the reader wonder whether the apparently hyperdynamic British model is the best option.

The principal consistent weak point in Simms’ argument however, is surely the secondary role he gives to the British Empire. Though Simms mentions kinship links between members of the Medieval English elite and Europe, his primarily political perspective leaves little room for considering that most kinship links in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were imperial due to emigration.[26] There are also more strictly political shortcomings. The argument that expansion of the British Empire was due to a desire to strengthen Britain’s place in Europe overlooks eagerness for colonial plunder. The Scramble for Africa culminating at Fashoda, the acquisition of Cyprus, and the exchange of Helgoland for faraway Zanzibar brought along tense Anglo-French relations, Turkish alignment with the Central Powers and a strengthened Germany.[27] Likewise, Britain’s first twentieth-century alliance was with Japan, in part to bolster its interests in China against Germany and Russia. By writing British possessions in the Mediterranean off as imperial, Simms marginalises them in favour of Northern Europe, especially the ‘German Question’, thus missing the extent to which that sea became a ‘British lake’ up to the mid-twentieth century, causing Italian hesitation in entering both world wars.[28] The idea that British decolonisation was swift, clean and driven by a desire to keep up appearances in Europe also ignores the renewed enthusiasm for empire after 1945, the drawn-out nature of decolonisation in Kenya and the impact of US pressure.[29]

Though the abovementioned omissions are serious and provide a somewhat ironic warning over the dangers of excessive Eurocentrism, they should at the same time not mask the common ground between Simms and historians of empire such as Niall Ferguson and John Darwin. Both give Europe a central role, the former in the twentieth century in particular, while the latter goes as far as describing the American War of Independence as ‘almost a side-show’ next to the Anglophobic League of Armed Neutrality.[30] Also like Darwin, Simms’ methodology combines extensive secondary literature with plentiful primary sources (in his case mainly quotations from diplomats and politicians), and reaches a good compromise between breadth and depth, crucial to such a grand survey. One of the key strengths of the book is its treatment of the English Channel being as much a highway as a barrier. That Britain’s frontiers lie in the Low Countries is a fascinating concept. Though some of the quotations appear metaphorical, the events that Simms recounts from the Hundred Years’ war and Anglo-Dutch wars through to Napoleon and the twentieth century provide a strong argument against the idea that Britain was regarded as detached from Europe by contemporaries. [31] In many cases of critique, the reader is left wanting more, rather than change. Though Simms includes an incredible twenty pages of maps at the beginning showing Britain’s long-standing territorial links with Europe, he leaves many details out. Why certain features, such as the ‘British postal intercept station’ at Celle, were important is not fully explored.[32] More crucially though, an expanded section on what the union of the crowns with Hanover looked like on the ground would have helped overcome the book’s social-cultural shortcomings: the reader is left assuming that since Westminster did not include Hanoverian MPs as Dunkirk once did, the trans-channel state was analogous to Anglo-Scottish relations prior to the Act of Union (1707). Similarly, the ability of the reader to think of several examples that could have been included in Britain’s Europe, such as the Hanseatic League and Anglo-Portuguese alliance surely strengthens the thesis.

To conclude, Simms’ thesis is convincing, with the exception of his marginalisation of the British Empire. Even here however, the reviewer would place this factor as of equal importance to Europe as opposed to greater importance. Although Simms’ manifesto seems impractical, it is at least as interesting as it is unorthodox. Overall, Britain’s Europe provides a welcome revision of Britain’s place in relation to the continent, highlighting an obsession with cooperation to win conflict on the continent at a time when many apparently believe that Britain can leave Europe altogether.


[1] B. Simms, Britain’s Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation (London, 2016), p. xiii; Simms is particularly critical of Arthur Bryant for giving this narrative credibility, in his work such as Set in a Silver Sea.

[2] H. Kearney, The British Isles: A History of Four Nations (Cambridge, 1989), p. 1; N. Davies, The Isles: A History (London, 1999).

[3] J. Brotton, This Orient Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic World (London, 2017), p. 305.

[4] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 1-3.

[5] Simms, Britain’s Europe, p. 4.

[6] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 7-9.

[7] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 20-22.

[8] Simms, Britain’s Europe, p. 30.

[9] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 31-32.

[10] Simms, Britain’s Europe, p. 55.

[11] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 52-69.

[12] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 71-92.

[13] Simms, Britain’s Europe, p. 114.

[14] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 98-110.

[15] Simms, Britain’s Europe, p. 112.

[16] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 116-142.

[17] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 143-144.

[18] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 145-164; A. Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order (London, 2014), pp. 173-217.

[19] Simms, Britain’s Europe, p. 170.

[20] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 177-178.

[21] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 206-218; J. Tomlinson, The Politics of Decline: Understanding Post-war Britain (Harlow, 2000).

[22] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 219-227.

[23] B. Simms, ‘Towards a mighty union: how to create a democratic European superpower’, International Affairs, 88/ 1 (2012), pp. 49-62; B. Simms, ‘The ghosts of Europe’s past’, New York Times, 10 June 2013, p. 23; B. Simms, ‘The storm on fortress Europe: the continent’s old crises have not been resolved’, New Statesman, 24-30 November 2017, p. 29.

[24] Project for Democratic Union <>, accessed 19.4.2018.

[25] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. 235-236.

[26] W. S. Churchill, History of the English-Speaking Peoples: The Birth of Britain, Volume 1 (London, 1956), pp. vii-viii.

[27] T. Pakenham, The Scramble for Africa (London, 1991).

[28] C. Duggan, A Concise History of Italy (Cambridge, 1994); R. Holland, Blue-water Empire: The British in the Mediterranean Since 1800 (London, 2012).

[29] J. Darwin, Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain (London, 2012).

[30] N. Ferguson, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (London, 2004); Darwin, Unfinished Empire, p. 317.

[31] For instance, Stanley Baldwin’s assertion that Britain’s frontiers lay on the Rhine or Elbe, in Simms, Britain’s Europe, p. 157, cannot be taken anywhere near literally, or as something that must be defended, rather they imply that Britain had an interest in Germany. Harold Macmillan took a similar approach to show solidarity with India against communist China by declaring that ‘Britain’s frontiers are on the Himalayas’ in 1965, Darwin, Unfinished Empire, p. 378. However Simms does point out that due to NATO commitments, ‘the United Kingdom’s eastern defence perimeter now effectively ran and runs along the eastern flank of the European Union’, Simms, Britain’s Europe, p. 197.

[32] Simms, Britain’s Europe, pp. xxvii.


Brotton, J., This Orient Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic World (London, 2017).

Churchill, W. S., History of the English-Speaking Peoples: The Birth of Britain (London, 1956).

Darwin, J., Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain (London, 2012).

Davies, N., The Isles: A History (London, 1999).

Duggan, C., A Concise History of Italy (Cambridge, 1994).

Ferguson, N., Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (London, 2004).

Holland, R., Blue-water Empire: The British in the Mediterranean Since 1800 (London, 2012).

Kearney, H., The British Isles: A History of Four Nations (Cambridge, 1989).

Lee, C., This Sceptred Isle (London, 1998).

Simms, B., ‘Towards a mighty union: how to create a democratic European superpower’, International Affairs, 88/ 1 (2012), pp. 49-62.

Simms, B., ‘The ghosts of Europe’s past’, New York Times, 10 June 2013, p. 23.

Simms, B., Britain’s Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation (London, 2016).

Simms, B., ‘The storm on fortress Europe: the continent’s old crises have not been resolved’, New Statesman, 24-30 November 2017, pp. 24-29.

Tomlinson, J., The Politics of Decline: Understanding Post-war Britain (Harlow, 2000).

Tooze, A., The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order (London, 2014).

Pakenham, T., The Scramble for Africa (London, 1991).

Project for Democratic Union <>, accessed 19.4.2018.

Book Review: Hughes, D. J. Environmental Problems of the Greeks and Romans (Baltimore: MD., 2014)

As the effects of global warming become more apparent, and large scale political and industrial action towards protecting the environment remains sluggish, tensions between the material demands of humanity and the earth’s ability to provide are reaching a dangerous high. Inspired by these pressures, academics of ancient Greece and Rome have been turning their attention […]

Book Review: M. Costambeys, M. Innes, S. MacLean, The Carolingian World (Cambridge, 2011)

In this article Marco Panato reviews The Carolingian World by Marios Costambeys, Matthew Innes, and Simon MacLean. At the height of its power, the Carolingian Empire dominated western Europe as its largest single polity. The Carolingian World, published in 2011, offers a comprehensive survey of the empire from its 8th century origins, to its struggle to maintain unity in the 9th century.

Access a PDF Version of this Article Here

Marco Panato

Author Biography

Marco Panato is a second-year PhD student and teaching affiliate in Medieval History at the University of Nottingham. Currently he is working under the supervision of Dr Ross Balzaretti and Professor Mark Pearce on a topic concerning river exploitation and fluvial traffic of people and foods in the Po valley (Northern Italy) during the Carolingian period (8th-9th c.)

Read more

Book Review: Paul Zanker and the Relationship between Roman Visual Culture and Roman History

In this article Lindsey Annable reviews Paul Zanker’s The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus and analyses the connections between Roman visual culture and Roman history. Originally published in 1987 in the original German as Augustus und die Macht der Bilder, the English translation followed one year later, and continues to be relevant to the study of Roman art today. This article will explore the contribution of The Power of Images to classical art scholarship, with the following areas considered in detail: the opinion of Zanker on the appropriation of Greek art in Roman visual culture; how far the representation of Octavian and Marc Antony was propagandistic; how Augustus instigated cultural renewal; and how Zanker views such aspects as culminating in the mythological imagery of the new Rome. A critical analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Zanker’s points will also be included, alongside other scholarly views on his work. By placing The Power of Images into a framework of past and present Roman art scholarship, its contribution to classical scholarship can be analysed in depth.

Download a PDF Version of this Article Here

Lindsey Annable

Author Biography 

Lindsey Annable is a second-year, AHRC-M3C-funded PhD student supervised by the Department of Classics at the University of Nottingham. Her research explores the proliferation of ‘Pompeian Rooms’ in eighteenth-century Britain.

Read more

Book Review: Daniel Martin Varisco’s, Orientalism: Said and the Unsaid


In this article David Robinson explores how historians communicate, interpret and commentate on the work of Edward Said. As David acknowledges, most Arts and Humanities students will encounter  Said’s canonical work, Orientalism, at some point during their degree. For those uninitiated or inexperienced in literary criticism, however, it can be a difficult, even opaque, text. Unsurprisingly, many turn to commentaries on Orientalism; to borrow a bad pun from the work under review here, to see what has been said about Said. David argues that while Daniel Martin Varisco’s Reading Orientalism: Said and the Unsaid, (Seattle, WA., 2007) is certainly a comprehensive study and is to be recommended to students as a reference work on Said,  it fails in its primary aim of going ‘beyond the binary’ of East versus West.

David Robinson

Author Biography

David Robinson is a second-year, AHRC-M3C-funded PhD student supervised by the Department of History at the University of Nottingham. His thesis is entitled ‘Orientalism or Meridionism? Comparing Imperial and European Travel Writing in the Creation of British and European Identity’ and explores the British construction of Italy and India as cultural and geographical spaces contributing to British identity formation.


Reading Orientalism

Edward Said’s Orientalism is the seminal work proposing a ubiquitous ‘othering’ of the Orient by Europe, evident in canonical European literature from Aeschylus onwards, a process Said called ‘orientalising’. Said claimed that the Orient was ‘almost invented’ by the West, as a feminised, exoticised, and eroticised space; an unchanging and unchangeable mirror-image of the rational, morally and culturally superior Occident.[1] ‘Orientalising’, claimed Said, was largely responsible for two centuries of European imperialism.[2] Attracting adoration and vitriol equally, Said was an American scholar with a Palestinian heritage, politically active in the cause of his cultural homeland.[3] Orientalism has, consequently, a significant political edge, polarising opinion as either a brilliant expose of Western prejudice, or a polemical rant which ‘invents’ the West as equally as Said accuses the West of inventing the East. Regardless, Orientalism has remained in print since 1978 and ‘its influence can hardly be disputed.’[4] Credited by many as the founding text of post-colonialism, Orientalism remains one of the most cited academic works of modern times.[5]

Read more

Book Review: Johnson & Burling’s, The Colonial American Stage, 1665 – 1774: A Documentary Calendar

Book Review: Johnson & Burling’s, The Colonial American Stage, 1665 – 1774: A Documentary Calendar

In this article Gary Fisher reviews William Burling and Odai Johnson’s, The Colonial American Stage, 1665 – 1774: A Documentary Calendar (Madison, NJ., 2002). 

Gary Fisher

Author Biography 

Gary Fisher is a second-year, AHRC-M3C-funded PhD student co-supervised by the Departments of Classics & Archaeology and American & Canadian Studies at the University of Nottingham. Gary’s current research focuses on the reception of the ancient world in eighteenth and nineteenth century American theatre. He is particularly interested in how depictions of the ancient world on stage served to disseminate classical political philosophy to American audiences.

The Colonial American Stage

There are perhaps fewer pleasanter discoveries in scholarship than when one finds that a particularly arduous task that is fundamental to one’s own research has already been completed. Especially when said task has been completed with a greater degree of meticulousness and proficiency than would have been possible under one’s own efforts. This is exactly the breed of revelation that Johnson and Burling offer in the form of The Colonial American Stage, 1665 – 1774: A Documentary Calendar.

Johnson and Burling frame their work as a response to the failings of contemporary scholarship on the subject of the colonial American stage, which they criticise as relying too heavily on individual anecdotes for evidence and allowing ‘the assumptions of one historian [to become] the facts of another.’[1] Their text seeks to produce a single sourcebook of all extant materials relating to theatrical culture in the American colonies, re-examine previously published evidence and claims, and provide information from sources that were previously unavailable or unknown to researchers.[2] A set of objectives which, in this author’s judgement, they complete with distinction. This is a text to which those writing henceforth on the subject of colonial American theatre will be indebted and those writing heretofore will be covetous.

The text is divided into two main sections. After a brief preface explaining the purpose and academic context of this work and a series of maps that ensure the reader is familiar with the geography of the American colonies, the first seventy pages are composed of a discussion of what the sources compiled within their calendar reveal about the theatrical culture of the American colonies. The remaining four hundred or so pages contain the actual documentary calendar of theatrical activity.

The first section begins by outlining the theatrical companies that were active in North America during this period and the professional training and lifestyles that travelling actors of differing degrees of professionalism might possess. Secondly, the nature of the presentation of plays is discussed. Johnson and Burling use the advertisements, reviews, and private records of companies to deduce what form the scenery, costumes, and music that were used in productions regularly took. They also examine the size of the lots upon which theatres were placed, financial records concerning the number of tickets sold, and the varieties of seating that were advertised in order to calculate the size and seating structure of various theatres concerning which no other evidence survives. Finally, they present the repertoires of plays different companies performed.

Following this discussion Johnson and Burling examine the opposition that early theatrical troupes faced whilst attempting to ply their trade in the Americas. They dissect this resistance into three broad categories: moral (religious opposition to the perceived immorality of the theatre), legislative (legal sanctions taken to prevent or limit theatrical activity), and economic (to prevent financial capital being removed from local communities). After which they discuss the steps that theatre companies took to either placate or avoid this opposition. Throughout this section examples from printed sermons, colonial legislation, and newspaper articles are presented to illustrate the precise nature of this opposition. They also closely examine the advertising materials of theatre troupes to show how companies were inventively adapting how they presented their shows (such as emphasising the noble moral sentiments espoused in the plays being performed or advertising that a portion of their profits will be donated to local charities) so as to attempt to assuage these fears.

Following this the economics of colonial theatre are discussed. Johnson and Burling use what few financial records that survive to demonstrate the costs and profitability of professional colonial theatre. They also discuss the alternative methods by which theatre companies attempted to supplement their income, such as offering musical or dance classes. Finally, the authors examine the nature of the audiences who attended such theatrical performances and the cross-section of society that they constituted. After briefly explaining the socio-economic composition of American audiences that attended these performances they move on to discuss the frequency with which violent disturbances broke out amongst American audiences. They argue that, despite a few examples of outbreaks of violence during performances over the course of this period, American audiences were less violent than their contemporary British counterparts and ‘were generally docile and predictable.’[3] Johnson and Burling illustrate their discussion with quotations from contemporary newspaper articles reporting on such violent outbreaks and discuss the extent to which the propensity for audience violence varied according to region and audience makeup. This topic serves as a colourful and engaging conclusion to Johnson and Burling’s discussion of the findings of their calendar.

Throughout the entirety of this first section the authors largely manage to avoid the temptation to enter into a potentially partisan discussion of this calendar’s implications for broader questions concerning colonial theatrical culture. Instead they, for the most part, present a clinical discussion of the practices and trends revealed by their calendar.

There are however some exceptions to this. For example, in their discussion of the opposition that theatre troupes faced they claim that the economic criticisms that were voiced throughout this period were ‘moral objections masquerading as financial objections’ and that economic objection was simply ‘a new approach for old enemies; having failed in their appeal on moral grounds, they resorted to economic objections.’[4] While this claim is not necessarily incorrect, it risks straying into the potential minefield of debate concerning the motivations of colonial opponents of the theatre within which figures such as Peter Davis ply their trade and would no doubt take serious umbrage with such assertions.[5] This subject is one which would perhaps require an entire monograph in of itself to adequately examine and, by writing off as they do the sincerity of economic objections to theatre within just over half a page, Johnson and Burling gloss over a topic that has been the subject of fierce academic debate.

Yet this example is an isolated one. For the most part the discussion of their calendar that is presented in this section avoids applying these results to broader partisan debates that surround colonial theatrical culture. Instead it is largely an objective discussion of theatrical trends and practices that are identifiable within the calendar. A fact that ensures its utility to all scholars of colonial theatre.

The discussion of their calendar that Johnson and Burling present in their first section is tremendously valuable in of itself. That they compound this discussion by presenting alongside it the documentary calendar from which this information was drawn substantially increases the value of this text as it allows other researchers of colonial theatre to use their findings as an evidential basis for their own research.

The calendar provides a year by year account of theatrical activity not just in the thirteen colonies but throughout all of the northern Americas, including Nova Scotia and the Caribbean Islands. In addition to recording performances of plays they also record information concerning legislation enacted against the theatre, newspaper articles and personal diaries discussing various aspects of the theatre, and reviews of performances, and is no doubt the product of dedicated and rigorous processing of the extant corpus of evidence.

When detailing performances Johnson and Burling record information concerning the date, location, and venue of the performance in addition to, where available, the play(s) being performed, the company that were performing, the cast list, the ticket prices, and the original source whence the information is derived. These fields are presented in a consistent structure that renders this potentially irregular and unwieldy information easy to understand and process. The calendar of activity for each year is preceded by a brief prose description of the activity that occurred in that year. These annual descriptors make the calendars of activity immediately more engaging and serve to effectively and understandably contextualise the following data.

The accessibility of the calendar is further augmented by the sophisticated system of indexes the Johnson and Burling provide. Rather than simply providing one possibly unwieldy index recording all possible topics relating to colonial theatre that one might wish to search they instead offer three: a Person index that allows one to identify information pertaining to individuals active in the colonial theatrical scene, a Subject and Place index that allows one to identify information pertaining to activity that occurred in a particular location or related to a particular subject, and a Title and Author index that allows one to identify activity relating to specific plays or playwrights. This is arguably the best way in which this information could have been presented within the format of a printed text to make this information as easily identifiable and accessible as possible.

Yet this leads on to what could possibly be considered the only significant criticism of the overall value of this work. Namely that a printed text is perhaps not the optimal format in which to present this information, especially for individuals hoping to use the information contained within the documentary calendar as part of their own research. The utility of this information would have been greatly enhanced had it been presented in some form of remotely accessible and searchable database. This would allow users to directly search for information relevant to their own investigations and compile their own data concerning performance frequencies and long term trends in theatrical culture.

It would be a mistake however to allow this criticism to draw attention away from the immense academic possibilities that this text provides. In spite of the limitations of their format Johnson and Burling have done an admirable job in compiling and presenting this information. As a direct result of their efforts future scholarship on the subject of colonial American theatre will no longer have to rely on using individual case studies to make assumptions about American theatrical culture at large but will instead be informed by a solid grounding in reliable evidence concerning theatrical activity. One can only hope that they take it upon themselves to produce further documentary calendars of a similar calibre that detail later periods of American theatrical history.


[1] O. Johnson & W.J. Burling, The Colonial American Stage, 1665 – 1774: A Documentary Calendar (Madison, NJ., 2002), p. 11.

[2] Johnson & Burling, The Colonial American Stage, p. 9.

[3] Johnson & Burling, The Colonial American Stage, p. 91.

[4] Johnson & Burling, The Colonial American Stage, p. 78.

[5] For further discussion of this subject see: P.A. Davis, ‘Puritan Mercantilism and the Politics of Anti-Theatrical Legislation in Colonial America’ in R. Engle & T.L. Miller, (Eds.) The American Stage (New York, 2006), pp. 18 – 29.

Book Review: John H. Arnold’s, Belief and Unbelief in Medieval Europe

Book Review: John H. Arnold’s Belief and Unbelief in Medieval Europe

In this article Joe Peake reviews John H. Arnold’s Belief and Unbelief in Medieval Europe, (London, 2005). Joe outlines the Foucauldian approach to Medieval religious belief taken by the  historian John Arnold and provides some useful insights for Medievalists questioning the applicability of modern theories to their research.

Joe Peake

Author Biography 

Originally from Sheffield, Joseph Peake is an MA graduate in history at the University of Nottingham. His MA dissertation was on the changing depictions of canines in medieval European Psalters and Books of Hours. He is currently in employment while applying for a PhD.







Belief and Unbelief

‘Since it is the task of the historian to look upon a particular fact as merely a link in a chain, to regard it in relation to some greater whole… the writer of history who desires to be more than a mere antiquarian must have a thorough theoretical training in those fields of inquiry with which his work is concerned…  No theory, no history!’ [1]

The economist Werner Sombart wrote these words in 1929, and they are no less true for the present-day historian of the medieval period. The influence of long-dead economists and social scientists upon our field can be seen in the intellectual inheritance of its most renowned practitioners; Michael Postan drew heavily from the theories of Thomas Malthus when outlining his population-resources model of English demographics; Maurice Dobb, Rodney Hilton and Robert Brenner developed distinct Marxist approaches to the study of class, feudalism and popular revolt; and D. L. D’Avray and Jean-Claude Schmitt are just two prominent examples of how the social histories of lay religion and the medieval church continue to be informed by Durkheim and Weber. However, historians of the Middle Ages have traditionally maintained a distance between their discipline and the kind of ‘theory’ popular among social scientists and modernists. Since the late 1990s, Michel Foucault has been one of the most cited theorists in the humanities and yet medieval history has scarcely begun to engage with his theoretical frameworks as they have with those of Marx and Malthus.[2] Applications of Foucauldian approaches in medieval history tend to be found in the study of sexuality, and there remains considerable division among these scholars as to whether Foucault’s theories are useful tools for avoiding anachronistic readings or whether they themselves lend themselves to anachronistic readings.[3] Furthermore, Foucault’s own work on the Middle Ages are sub-par compared to that which is concerned with the early-modern and modern periods, leading the majority of medievalists to dismiss them for their ‘superficiality, lack of detail, and indifference to documents and their nuances.’[4]

Read more