The myth of Chinese exceptionalism

Yuan-kang Wang All nations tend to see their history as exceptional, and these beliefs usually continue a heavy dose of fiction. Here are the top three myths of contemporary Chinese exceptionalism. Myth #1: China did not expand when it was strong. Myth 2: The Seven Voyages of Zheng He demonstrates the peaceful nature of Chinese … Continue reading

About Attila the Hun

Mike Dash He called himself flagellum Dei, the scourge of God, and even today, 1,500 years after his blood-drenched death, his name remains a byword for brutality. Ancient artists placed great stress on his inhumanity, depicting him with goatish beard and devil’s horns. Then as now, he seemed the epitome of an Asian steppe nomad: … Continue reading

Sagas of Icelanders

One of the great riddles of literary history Kathryn Hadley ‘During the 13th and 14th centuries on a sparsely populated, volcanic and inhospitable island at the edge of the Arctic Circle there was an outpouring of literary creativity unparalleled in the medieval world… How a tiny population of Viking settlers came to produce so many … Continue reading

The Risorgimento

Led By A Desire for Cultural Unity? Emily Parton Emily Parton asks a key question about Italian unification, in the winning entry of History Review magazine’s 2009 Julia Wood Award. The Battle of the Goito Bridge (April 8th, 1848). Lithography by Stanislas Grimaldi de PugetThe question of whether cultural unity was the driving force behind … Continue reading

The evacuation of Tristan da Cunha

The 264 inhabitants of the island of Tristan da Cunha were evacuated to Cape Town on October 10th, 1961. Refugees from Tristan da Cunha at a church service in Cape Town. Getty Images/Time LifeIn 1506 a Portuguese sea-captain called Tristao da Cunha came across a group of six little islands far out in the Atlantic … Continue reading

Enduring England

Academics have dismissed the field of national histories as parochial. But, argues Dominic Sandbrook, three new accounts of England show that myths of national identity remain strong Dominic Sandbrook Is there such a thing as an enduring national character? Most academic historians would probably scoff at the idea of a nation having a distinct personality, … Continue reading

A whiff of history

When smells vanish, we lose a whole dimension of the world. Now there’s a movement to change that. By Courtney Humphries Think of some of your most powerful memories, and there’s likely a smell attached: the aroma of suntan lotion at the beach, the sharpness of freshly mown grass, the floral trail of your mother’s … Continue reading

Hegemony with Chinese Characteristics

Aaron L. Friedberg THE UNITED States and the People’s Republic of China are locked in a quiet but increasingly intense struggle for power and influence, not only in Asia, but around the world. And in spite of what many earnest and well-intentioned commentators seem to believe, the nascent Sino-American rivalry is not merely the result … Continue reading

Everything You Think You Know About the Collapse of the Soviet Union Is Wrong

*And why it matters today in a new age of revolution. BY LEON ARON Every revolution is a surprise. Still, the latest Russian Revolution must be counted among the greatest of surprises. In the years leading up to 1991, virtually no Western expert, scholar, official, or politician foresaw the impending collapse of the Soviet Union, … Continue reading

Telling War Stories

The Civil War and the meaning of life. Drew Gilpin Faust On a hot Saturday in September 1962, I crowded with my brothers and cousins into my aunt and uncle’s station wagon and drove off to war. Passing through our county in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, we headed toward Charles Town, West Virginia, then crossed over … Continue reading

Stunning Photographs of Civil War Soldiers

1861 author Adam Goodheart discusses an amazing new exhibition, and his book about the start of the Civil War. By David Plotz In his marvelous new book, 1861: The Civil War Awakening, Adam Goodheart tries to capture what it felt like to live through secession and the opening months of the Civil War, at a … Continue reading

Civil war lit

How the War between the States changed American literature (Greg Klee/Globe Staff) By Craig Fehrman One April night in 1861, almost exactly 150 years ago, Walt Whitman decided to go to the opera. After watching a performance of Verdi, he walked into the New York air — and into a world that had changed completely. … Continue reading

Niall Ferguson

‘The left love being provoked by me … they think I’m a reactionary imperialist scumbag’ The controversial historian on how political debate in England is trapped in the 80s, why Americans love him – and his refusal to forgive people who cross him Decca Aitkenhead ‘I’m completely unforgiving’ . . . Niall Ferguson Photograph: Christian … Continue reading

A Hero in His Own Mind

Hitler Biography Debunks Mythology of Wartime Service. After analyzing recently found documents about Adolf Hitler’s days as a soldier in World War I, historian Thomas Weber has concluded that he was not the hero he was later made out to be and that his radicalization shouldn’t necessarily be attributed to his wartime experiences. By Georg … Continue reading

The Arab Westphalia

Franck Salameh “Blame it on the English” is a popular Lebanese wisecrack; the idiot savant’s elixir and the learned man’s exit line when answers become too few and far between. “When all else fails, blame it on the English!” goes the playful adage. Yet, when placed in a wider Middle Eastern context the phrase loses … Continue reading

Armenia and the Turks in the Time of Lawrence

Benny Morris While Colonel T. E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") sympathized with Armenian aspirations for sovereignty and, indeed, in a map he drew up after the Great War of a desirable Middle Eastern share-out of the Ottoman Empire he provided for an independent Armenia (in Cilicia), he was also party to the prevalent anti-Armenian prejudices … Continue reading

John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 Disaster

By Jennifer Berry In April 1943, 25-year-old John F. Kennedy arrived in the Pacific and took command of the PT-109. Just months later, the boat collided with a Japanese ship, killing two of his men (John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, PC101). The most famous collision in U.S. Navy history occurred at about 2:30 a.m. on August … Continue reading

R.R.’s Deadly Joke

By Jiří Peňáš Translated By Mark Nuckols  7 February 2011 Edited by Mark DeLucas Czech Republic – Lidové noviny – Original Article (Czech)  Yesterday the entire advanced world recalled the hundredth anniversary of the birth of that great son of the American people, leader of the world middle class, actor, statesman and astrologer Ronald Wilson … Continue reading

The Ghosts of Abkhazia

Thomas de Waal  I slept badly in the Hotel Ritsa in Abkhazia. I had an unsettling dream in which I walked through an old house with an elderly Stalin, muttering malevolently to himself. In the morning, wondering who had disturbed my sleep, I had a long list of suspects from the other world. Many of … Continue reading

German Jews, Israel, and Kristallnacht

Jacob Heilbrunn  November 9 is a portentous historical date. World War I ended on November 9. Hitler staged his beer hall putsch on that date in 1923–an attempt to overturn the Weimar Republic that the alleged "November criminals" had foisted upon the German people. And Reichskristallnacht–the orgy of violence against Jewish businesses and synagogues that … Continue reading

Latitudes not Attitudes: How Geography Explains History

Ian Morris  Many reasons have been given for the West’s dominance over the last 500 years. But, Ian Morris argues, its rise to global hegemony was largely due to geographical good fortune. I am wearing your clothes, I speak your language, I watch your films and today is whatever date it is because you say … Continue reading


A brief history of women in the workplace. BY ELIZABETH DICKINSON The White House just released a new policy paper on its economic strategy for women, detailing how it will push for better access to loans, education, and equality in the workplace. "As the majority of college graduates and nearly 50 percent of the workforce, … Continue reading

French History Strikes Back

As the current unrest in Paris and Marseille proves, the social contract that French workers forged generations ago is still alive — but how long can it last? BY ROBERT ZARETSKY The images of great rivers of striking workers and students surging along Paris boulevards or blockading petroleum refineries have gripped the French nation and … Continue reading

How Middle Eastern Milk Drinkers Conquered Europe

By Matthias Schulz  Peter Roggenthin An excavation of a Linear Pottery village in Bavaria New research has revealed that agriculture came to Europe amid a wave of immigration from the Middle East during the Neolithic period. The newcomers won out over the locals because of their sophisticated culture, mastery of agriculture — and their miracle … Continue reading

The Tyranny of Metaphor

Three historical myths have been leading American presidents into folly for nearly a century. Is Obama wise enough to avoid the same fate? BY ROBERT DALLEK In 1952, British historian Denis William Brogan published a brilliantly perceptive article on "The Illusion of American Omnipotence." In the midst of the Korean War, Brogan was not only … Continue reading

What Columbus Day Really Means

If you think the holiday pits Native Americans against Italian Americans, consider the history behind its origin By William J. Connell During the run-up to Columbus Day I usually get a call from at least one and sometimes several newspaper reporters who are looking for the latest on what has become one of the most … Continue reading

The Civil War: Some Phase Zero problems and Phase Four thoughts

By Thomas E. Ricks What goes around comes around. The other day Tom Donnelly was spanked here by a guest columnist. Today he’s our guest columnist. By Tom Donnelly Best Defense guest columnist Had U.S. Army officer education balanced its study of Robert E. Lee’s operational art with some serious consideration of both Reconstruction and … Continue reading

Lashing Back – Israel’s 1947-1948 Civil War

Palestine’s Jews responded to the Arabs’ first attempt to wipe them out with a fierce, all-out war. By Benny Morris GUNS UP: Members of Haganah celebrate breaking the Arab forces’ blockade of Jerusalem, a success in April 1948 that helped to swiftly shift the momentum of the civil war toward Jewish forces. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images … Continue reading

T.E. Lawrence: The Enigmatic Lawrence of Arabia

The Arabian heat rose up in shimmering waves, blurring the Bedouins’ vision and parching their throats. They were deployed along the crest of a hill, taking shots at Turkish soldiers who fired back at them from their post below. Suddenly, there erupted a thundering sound as about 50 camel riders, led by the fierce Howeitat … Continue reading

Creating Chaos: Lawrence of Arabia and the 1916 Arab Revolt

This 600-mile, weeks-long trek was through terrain so inhospitable even the Bedouin called it al-Houl (the Terror). T. E. Lawrence biographer Michael Asher called it ‘one of the most daring raids ever attempted in the annals of war.’ By O’Brien Browne The 1916-1918 Arab Revolt was often carried out by mounted Arab tribesmen, who knew … Continue reading

If Afghanistan’s failing does that mean nation building is impossible? No.

By Paul Miller In response to my last post about why realists should support nation building, some readers responded with a curious argument: Afghanistan (they believe) is failing, therefore nation building is impossible. Set aside the fact that this is does not respond to my argument — which was not about Afghanistan and did not … Continue reading

A lesson from history

By Ed Balls  A wide consensus supporting cuts does not mean they are the right policy—consider the past, writes Ed Balls Margaret Thatcher oversaw recession, social unrest and rising unemployment. As the government embark on their policy of drastic spending cuts, will history repeat itself? For more on Labour, see David Goodhart’s review of Tony’s … Continue reading

The top three reasons you should read Thucydides

By Daniel W. Drezner Your humble blogger is teaching Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War this week. Now, back in the day, there would be no need to justify the inclusion of such a classic into a course. Nowadays, with the kids and their YouFace, I suppose some justification should be provided. Here are three … Continue reading

Reexamining Russian History

Anatol Lieven  One of the main themes of the Valdai Club this year was coming to terms with Russia’s twentieth-century history, or rather the ghastly period between the revolution of 1917 and the death of Stalin in 1953. This forms part of a push by Russian establishment liberals who support President Dmitri Medvedev to galvanize … Continue reading

Home of "Ice Giants" thaws, shows pre-Viking hunts

Home of "Ice Giants" thaws, shows pre-Viking hunts Norwegian archaeologist Elling Utvik Wammer picks up a stick believed to be about 1,500 years old and used by ancestors of the Vikings to hunt reindeer in the Jotunheimen mountains of Norway September 9, 2010. REUTERS/Alister Doyle By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent JUVFONNA, Norway (Reuters) – Climate … Continue reading

Historical Fiction

Israel is not an imperialist state. By Dore Gold. The argument that Israel is a colonialist entity is often marshaled to undermine the Jewish state’s legitimacy. The theme has certainly permeated Western academia, almost uncritically. For decades, it has been employed against Israel in one international forum after another. In 1973, the U.N. General Assembly … Continue reading

The Lingering War

By Andrew Salmon The Korean War: A History by Bruce Cumings Modern Library, 320 pp., $24 This year marks what is widely considered the sixtieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. This was the first hot war of the Cold War; the first (and only) battlefield clash of superpowers; the first “limited war.” … Continue reading

The United States, Israel, and the Failure of the Western Way of War

Andrew J. Bacevich: The End of (Military) History?: The United States, Israel, and the Failure of the Western Way of War By Andrew J. Bacevich. “In watching the flow of events over the past decade or so, it is hard to avoid the feeling that something very fundamental has happened in world history.” This sentiment, … Continue reading

Thucydides: the Reinvention of History

By DONALD KAGAN. Essay by A.C. Grayling. If there is a single must-read for students of history, politics, warfare, and international relations, it is Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, recounting the struggle between the empires of Athens and Sparta in the last three decades of the fifth century BCE. Its modern influence reached a … Continue reading

Redrawing Boundaries

By Adam Kirsch. A Short History of the Jews by Michael Brenner Princeton University Press, 472 pp., $21 In the writing of history, there are no innocent decisions—especially if you are trying to write a compact book about a huge, complex, and polarizing subject, like Michael Brenner’s A Short History of the Jews. Brenner, a … Continue reading

Teaching Military History in a Time of War

By Michael A. Bellesiles. Teaching military history when there are veterans in the classroom requires a greater sensitivity to the impact of language than may be the case with other students. I learned long ago to never insert words like "just" or "only" before giving casualty figures, for few veterans who have been in combat … Continue reading

Unfinished Business

For 65 years, Japanese corporations have escaped responsibility for abusing American POWs during World War II. BY CHRISTIAN CARYL. Lester Tenney entered World War II as a strapping 21-year-old, weight 180 pounds. By the time he emerged from Japanese captivity in 1945, he was a shattered, emaciated cripple. His left arm and shoulder were partly … Continue reading

Chosen, but Not Special

By Michael Chabon GAZA Flotilla Drives Israel Into a Sea of Stupidity” declared the Israeli daily Haaretz on Monday, as though announcing the discovery of some hitherto unknown body of water. Citizens of other nations have long since resigned themselves, of course, to sailing those crowded waters, but for Israelis — and, indeed, for Jews … Continue reading

Holy Terror: The Rise of the Order of Assassins

By Jefferson Gray: For almost two centuries, from 1090 until 1273, the Order of Assassins played a singular and sinister role in the Middle East. A small Shiite sect more properly known as the Nizari Ismailis, the Assassins were relatively few, geographically dispersed, and despised as heretics by both the Sunni Muslim majority and even … Continue reading

Cleopatra’s Underwater Kingdom

By EDWARD ROTHSTEIN The wonder we feel is not at Cleopatra’s beauty (which Plutarch reports was “in itself not altogether incomparable”) but at the extraordinary cultural universe that preceded her and surrounded her before Egypt submitted to the Romans in 30 B.C. and Cleopatra — Egypt’s last pharaoh and the end of the Ptolemaic dynasty … Continue reading

A Hidden History of Evil

CLAIRE BERLINSKI A Hidden History of Evil Why doesn’t anyone care about the unread Soviet archives? MARC RIBOUD/MAGNUM PHOTOS Though Mikhail Gorbachev is lionized in the West, the untranslated archives suggest a much darker figure. In the world’s collective consciousness, the word “Nazi” is synonymous with evil. It is widely understood that the Nazis’ ideology—nationalism, … Continue reading