Counting The Fallen

June 23, 2015

The size of the armies and the number of the casualties in a given war, or even individual battle, is always a difficult discussion for historians. When dealing with pre-modern sources of any kind, historians are cautious about accepting contemporary estimates.* The assumption is that at best the writer of the source did not have […]

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Big History and Big Buts

May 29, 2015

Several years ago, when I was working on a Big Project, I stumbled across the concept of Big History.* It’s basically the opposite of the academic mantra “not my field.”  Proponents of Big History integrate many scholarly disciplines in order to look at human history as a tiny part of the history of the cosmos.  […]

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In which I consider the nature of primary sources, with a little despair

April 25, 2015

My primary academic home is the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries,* periods in which primary sources and material artifacts are relatively abundant. As a result, the question of whether something counts as a primary source is generally clear–at least in terms of a given sources’s temporal relationship to the event/period in question.** (How we […]

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Medieval People

December 2, 2014

In Medieval People: Vivid Lives in a Distant Landscape, historian Michael Prestwich [author of Knight: The Medieval Warrior’s (Unofficial) Manual] challenges generalities about the Middle Ages* by looking at the specific: biographies of 69 people who lived between 800 and 1500, a period that stretches from Charlemagne’s empire to the early Renaissance. Prestwich’s choice of […]

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Curiosity’s Cats

July 1, 2014

Research is a big part of my writing work day. In fact, I read far more words than I write in my constant search for a topic, a story,* and/or a telling detail. I have special glasses for the hours I spend on the computer, and eye drops that I generally forget to use. (Excuse […]

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In which I consider the nature of historical periods–and moving

June 11, 2014

Despite good intentions, and a couple of creative efforts,*  I succumbed to radio silence here in the Margins while My Own True Love and I moved four whole blocks.  The construction isn’t quite done, but we’re half-way settled into the new house. (Okay, maybe a quarter of the way.  Between us we have a lot […]

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The Warrior Queens

May 10, 2014

I’m in the midst of re-reading an old friend–Antonia Fraser’s The Warrior Queens: The Legends and the Lives of the Women Who Have Led Their Nations in War. If I were a more patient sort, I would wait to finish and then write a reasoned post with carefully thought out conclusions. But sometimes you just […]

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Back To The Silk Roads

May 6, 2014

In response to my recent post on the so-called Silk Roads, a reader asked me what books I would recommend for someone interested in learning more about the subject. I will try to show some restraint.* Here are some of my favorite books and websites on the subject: Boulnois, Luce and Helen Loveday. Silk Road: […]

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History on Display: Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair

January 10, 2014

Last Sunday My Own True Love and I cocked a snook at cold and snow* and headed out to Chicago’s Field Museum to see what we thought was an exhibit on the 1893 World’s Fair, aka the Columbian Exposition. We had neglected to read the subtitle for the exhibit: “Opening the Vaults”. As is often […]

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On War, Part 2

November 26, 2013

After last Friday’s post about the Pritzker Military Library’s symposium, On War, I got a challenging e-mail from a reader, asking me for the titles of definitive histories for World War I, World War II and Vietnam.* My first response was “danged if I know.” My second response was doubt that there is a definitive […]

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