Beyond the military revolution: War in the seventeenth-century world (Jeremy Black, 2011)

Jeremy Black is author of many books, three of which I’ll discuss in this blog post:

(1) Beyond the military revolution: War in the seventeenth-century world (2011).

(2) War and the new disorder in the 21st century (2004) and

(3) War and the cultural turn (2012).

In Beyond the military revolution (2011), Jeremy Black demonstrates cogency, clarity in use of language, and what to this layperson appears a firm grasp of sources.

With regard to cannons, by way of example, the author’s discussion of development of artillery in the seventeenth century is precise and succinct. He shares factual, evidence-based information that helps a layperson better understand how this development may have occurred, and the role that literacy and printing may have played in spread of information related to cannon construction, ballistics, and related topics.

The manner in which historians use language determines how history is understood and conceptualized in the present moment. The book offers a valuable demonstration of how first-rate contemporary historians go about their work. Black’s books are exemplary studies in historiography.

The online Mirriam-Webster Distionary defines historiography as “the writing of history, especially the writing of history based on the critical examination of sources, the selection of particulars from the authentic materials, and the synthesis of particulars into a narrative that will stand the test of critical methods.”

According to Black, it’s worth underlining a key historiographical point, “namely the dependence of historical scholarship on a very small number of individuals.”

Black brings to his work a clarity of thought that serves as a model for gaining a better and more perceptive understanding of any field of endeavour, in my view.

Based in part on blurbs for them at the Toronto Public Library, the topics of the three books can be paraphrased as follows:

(1) Beyond the military revolution (2011): The evidence does not support the conclusion that events in the seventeenth century gave rise to a what has been conceptualized as a Military Revolution. Black distinguishes between a Military Revolution (capitalized) and a military revolution (lowercase). The former refers to a well-know theory of military ‘progress’ in the pre-modern era. The latter usage refers to a more generalized reference to rapid changes in technology of warfare. In the preface, the author notes that his book does not constitute a critique of what has come before. “This is not me intention,” he notes, “as I see historical study, like the subject it describes, as a relationship between generations and among colleagues. Indeed, I would like to record my gratitude for the friendship and work of other scholars on the period ….”

(2) War and the new disorder (2004): Black sees the United States as an ‘eccentric’ military power and does not see developments in that country as a useful frame of reference for events elsewhere. Instead, his narrative focuses on the growing lawlessness occurring in many countries around the world.

(3) War and the cultural turn (2012) addresses culture in the context of military history. The author discusses the framework that culture provides and limitations of culture as a tool for analyzing war.



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