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4 The Nineteenth Century

Jeremy M. Black Indiana University Press ePub

The major overlap and close interaction of academic history and political engagement was amply seen in the nineteenth century. This was unsurprising, as commentators sought to mold and make sense of a period of growing change, of economic, social, political, intellectual, and cultural change, and at the global, national, regional, and local levels. This engagement was displayed both in favor of and against change. It was seen in countries at the forefront of new developments, notably Britain, Germany, the United States, and later Japan, and also in those not matching this process.

From the outset of the century, continuing the theme in the previous chapter, commitment was readily apparent in Europe as historians responded to the challenge of the French Revolution, which, to a degree, prefigured the different need for non-Western commentators later in the century to respond to the threat posed by Western expansion. The situation in Britain is of considerable interest, as this country was at the forefront of economic growth, imperial growth, and intellectual debate. Moreover, the freedom and size of its publishing industry provided plentiful and profitable opportunities for historians. There is a tendency to focus on liberal and Whig commentators, both at the time of the Revolution and subsequently, for example, Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800–1859). However, there was also an important conservative tradition. For example, Edward Nares exemplified the attitudes to history seen with Edmund Burke, and carried them forward. Like many British and Continental writers, Nares combined a nationalistic perspective with an interest in history. In his case, his perspective was born of Protestant zeal and hostility toward foreign political developments, notably French radicalism. Having defended religion in the Bampton lectures of 1805, Nares held the Regius Chair of Modern History at Oxford from 1813 until his death in 1841. This was a post gained through his connections with the leading conservative politician, Robert, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, the Tory Prime Minister from 1812 to 1827.1

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11 Historiographies of the Present

Jeremy M. Black Indiana University Press ePub

MANY HISTORIANS OFFER, ALONGSIDE THE SENSE OF HISTORY as a continuing process, a defense of its value that at least implies that it will provide clarity, answers, and solutions. If both past and present can be seen as part of a process of continual change, then an understanding of the past has obvious value for the present. For example, in The Dragons of Expectation: Reality and Delusion in the Course of History (2004), Robert Conquest noted the contingent nature of historical judgments, but also presented the subject as a means for education, with a particular emphasis on the recent past: “History is that part of the Humanities which enables us to look back with a real perspective and so, also, to look forward as well-briefed as we can be. We need the whole accessible past to give us a deep perspective. We need the history of the twentieth century because it contains, if sometimes in vestigial form, the elements of the present – and the future.”1

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1 Introduction

Jeremy M. Black Indiana University Press ePub

It was the meteorite that landed in the Western Approaches to the English Channel on the night of June 5–6, 1944, that doomed the long-planned Anglo-American invasion of Normandy. No fleet, especially one with heavily laden landing-craft, could have survived the resulting tidal wave, which was funneled up the Channel to devastating effect. By leaving the Germans in control of France, the total failure of this invasion attempt enabled them to concentrate on resisting the advance of the Red (Soviet) Army and to do so beyond April 1945 when Berlin might otherwise have fallen. As a result, the United States had the opportunity in August 1945 to drop on Berlin one of the two atomic bombs that were ready. The U.S. needed to do so to show that it could play a major role in overthrowing Hitler. However, with no Anglo-American ground forces yet in Germany, the Soviets were able, amidst the ruins of the Nazi regime, to occupy most of it. A Cold War frontier on the Rhine followed, as did a Communist bloc benefiting from the resources and capacity of the Ruhr industrial belt and from the revival of the German economy after World War II.

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6 Britain Triumphant to America Independent 1765–76

Jeremy M. Black Indiana University Press ePub

The empire of America may be said to be the renovation of youth to the kingdom of Great Britain.

Anon., A Full and Free Enquiry into the Merits of the Peace (1765)

Oft told, the story of the breakdown of the imperial link is generally presented in political terms, although Stephen Hornsby has recently advanced a geopolitical thesis. Arguing that profound and longstanding differences existed between the American eastern seaboard and the Atlantic regions of eastern Canada and the West Indies, he sees these differences as being pushed to the fore after the conquest of Canada: “In attempting to govern the enlarged spaces of the British Atlantic, the British government had tightened imperial authority over the seaboard colonies, which, in turn, had provoked a fierce political backlash. . . . The strength of British power over its Atlantic empire reinforced the imperial government’s desire to rein in the continental colonies, while at the same time spurring the colonists to throw off the imperial harness.”1 The attempt by the British government to control the interior threw this issue to the fore. There was no consistent master plan of control, but the determination, with the controversial Royal Proclamation issued on 7 October 1763, to stop settlement, and indeed surveying, in areas seen as rightly Native American, was followed by the Quebec Act of 1774, which allocated much of the interior with the lands west of the Alleghenies and north of the Ohio River going to the Canadian colony. This was a step that affected both settlers and the speculators who had invested in land, a group that included influential circles in America, notably in Virginia, as well as back-country groups, such as Pennsylvania’s Paxton Boys, that rejected the idea of Friendly Natives and that were ready to resort to violence.2

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7 Britain Defeated 1775–83

Jeremy M. Black Indiana University Press ePub

Civilization acting across space was the aspect of geopolitics captured by Edward Gibbon in the fourth volume of his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, written in 1782–84 and published in 1788. He claimed that, in what was seen as the unlikely event of civilization collapsing in Europe in the face of new barbarian inroads, which he assumed would come from Central Asia: “Europe would revive and flourish in the American world, which is already filled with her colonies and institutions. . . . America now contains about six millions of European blood and descent; and their numbers, at least in the North, are continually increasing. Whatever may be the changes in their political situation, they must preserve the manners of Europe.”1

This consolation might well be vindicated in a geopolitical light in the long term of the twentieth century, with Wilhelmine and Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia cast in these barbarian roles, both culturally and geopolitically, but Gibbon’s argument was an after-echo of a bitter war of independence (1775–83) and one that poses the question of how best to link strategy with geopolitics. A member of Parliament, Gibbon himself had supported government policy.

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