Harris and The Great Fear

In The Great Fear, James Harris tells a story that leads up to Stalin’s infamous Great Terror of 1937-38 – a purge responsible for the imprisonment and execution – not only of party leaders – but of thousands of ordinary soviet citizens as well.[1]  Harris painstakingly describes not only the key events leading up to the purge, but also the way these events were perceived by soviet leadership in contrast to how they are perceived by historiography today.

The central theme throughout Harris’ work is perspective versus reality, and he frames this debate in the context of a Russian history that greatly predates the Bolshevik revolution.  From the very early years of Muscovy rule, challenging those in power was punished by either death or exile.[2]  The struggles for power, the regular conspiracies to overthrow it and the nature of the relationship between the ruling elite and those who were owned by them resulted in a cycle of increasing political violence.[3]  A secret police force was established by the autocracy as early as 1682, and its lessons continued through the age of revolutions.[4]

The strong state/weak state paradox that Harris describes in his introduction describes the controversy between the totalitarian and revisionist schools of historiographical thought in the realm of soviet history.  A strong state as proposed by authors like Robert Conquest focused on the consolidated power of Stalin as a dictator who implemented the purges as an effort to further solidify and maintain his power.[5]  The revisionist school of thought of the 1970s and 1980s as described by authors like J. Arch Getty focused instead on the effect that the civil war, Bolshevik ideologies and Russian cultural history contributed to political violence in Stalin’s regime, creating a system in which enemies existed everywhere.[6]  Harris’ thesis throughout his work describes the disintegration between the regime’s reality and its perception by those in power.

The lingering fear of war led to the misperception that the regime – and indeed the revolutionary movement as a whole – was in eminent danger.[7]  This threat convinced soviet leadership that repression and violence was the only way to survive and remain in power.[8]  Continual accusations of wrecking and sabotage were not legitimate attempts to overthrow the government – they were a direct result of the unrealistic expectations that Stalin imposed on both agriculture and industry that were nearly impossible to meet.[9]  As leaders were denounced and their conspiracies to meet those expectations were exposed, it further convinced Stalin of the eminent danger the party faced from within and without.[10]  This vicious, self-reinforcing cycle led to the increase of violence, arrests and executions of ordinary citizens with little to no evidence of their actual guilt.[11]

From the introduction through the conclusion, Harris strategically builds his argument through the various phases of the revolutionary regime through Stalin’s.  Due to the nature of the NKVD’s hunt for conspirators and their use of both confessions under torture and denunciations, it was impossible to find an ‘end’ to conspiracy.[12]  Although Stalin and other party leadership eventually admitted that there were ‘excesses’ and that innocent people had suffered as a result, the culture of suspicion, fear and threat contributed to the scope and the violence of the purges.[13]  Ultimately, Harris places the blame not on Stalin (or at least not solely on Stalin), but on faulty methods of gathering intelligence and the continual misperceptions that intelligence generated and perpetuated throughout party leadership as a whole.[14]

[1] James Harris, The Great Fear, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016), 2.

[2] Harris, The Great Fear, 7.

[3] Harris, The Great Fear, 7.

[4] Harris, The Great Fear, 9.

[5] Harris, The Great Fear, 3.

[6] Harris, The Great Fear, 3.

[7] Harris, The Great Fear, 142.

[8] Harris, The Great Fear, 142.

[9] Harris, The Great Fear, 167.

[10] Harris, The Great Fear, 167.

[11] Harris, The Great Fear, 168.

[12] Harris, The Great Fear, 182.

[13] Harris, The Great Fear, 183.

[14] Harris, The Great Fear, 186.


Hamas’ Leaflet #1 – January 1988

When an Israeli vehicle crashed in Gaza, killing four Palestinians, Arab resistance to the Israeli occupation reached new heights.[1]  There was an explosion of violence, anger and hatred, which set Israel at odds with Hamas –the Islamic Resistance Movement (Harakat al-muqawwamah al-Islamiyyah).[2]  Hamas was committed to armed conflict in order to reclaim Israel in the name of Islam.[3]  Born from forty years of anger, persecution, repression and removal from their native lands, Hamas’ Leaflet Number 1 is the epitome of the tension, indignation and hatred shared by Palestinian refugees.  By invoking Islam rather than the secular rights advocated by its rival the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Hamas sought to unite the Muslim world against the Zionists, who they viewed as foreign conquerors who needed to be removed from the land of Palestine by force.

There is no question that parts of Leaflet Number One are emphatically anti-Jewish.[4]  This document is a desperate expression of decade’s worth of pent up anger over injustices that have not been acknowledged or resolved by the neighboring Arab States or the international community at large.  In this context, while the language is inexcusable, it becomes more understandable – especially in light of the fact that this insulting verbiage is not one-sided.  On theological grounds, the Quran mandates that Muslims respect both Jews and Christians, and for many centuries all three religions lived in relative peace throughout the Middle East.[5]  Leaflet number one and the Hamas Charter also published in 1988 do have strong anti-Jewish sentiments, but later documents express regret and some of the original language, and clarify the position that Hamas is anti-Zionism, not against the Jewish religion or Jewish people as a whole.[6]  For Hamas, the creation of the State of Israel was illegal, and was done with the approval of both Europe and the United States, effectively establishing a foreign power in the Palestinian homeland, and forcibly removing hundreds of native Palestinians from their homes, their land, and their property.[7]  Although the leadership of Hamas has since tried to distance itself from its original inflammatory language in both Leaflet Number 1 and its original charter, it cannot possibly distance itself from the reality that on the ground in the territories, Zionists, Jew and Israeli are all used interchangeably.[8]

From Hamas’ inception, it defined itself as a military organization, yet proclaimed explicitly its willingness to resort to terrorism, originally found in this document.  When speaking of Palestinian Arabs that had been killed by Israeli forces, Leaflet No. 1 states that “every drop of blood shall become a Molotov cocktail, a time bomb, and a roadside charge that will rip out the intestines of the Jews.  Only then will their sense return.”[9]  Also explicit in this published document is the dichotomy of only two possible outcomes.  Arabs face either martyrdom in the resistance or victory.[10]  Hamas does not differentiate between civilian and military targets, and the more they take the offensive against Israel, the more Israel retaliates, leading to an endless cycle of violence and bloodshed that does not seem to have contemporary conclusion.  It is little wonder, then, that Israel views Hamas – like the PLO – as a terrorist organization that needs to be exterminated for the sake of its security.[11]  Conversely, Israel is hardly free from the blood of innocents, commonly retaliating against Arab communities regardless of fault.[12]

As an organization rooted in Islamic ideology, theology and society, Hamas challenges the effectiveness of the secular-leaning PLO, and aims to unite Muslims worldwide under its banner of resistance against what they view as tyranny and injustice.[13]  They are, by all counts, a terrorist organization that allows for the targeting of civilians.  Their aim is to liberate Palestine from the State of Israel and set up an Islamic State throughout Palestine as the heart of the Muslim world.[14]  While their methods fall outside the realm of typically accepted behavior, Hamas’ motives and purpose are understandable.  With decade’s worth of inaction, refusal on the part of Israel and the sluggish movement of the Arab States to act, Hamas’ Leaflet Number One is an expression of rage over injustice – an injustice that can only be solved through force in the name of Islam.








Abu-Amr, Ziad.  “Hamas: A Historical and Political Background.”  Journal of Palestinian Studies 20, no. 4 (Summer 1993): 155-69.


Hamas.  “Leaflet No. 1.” Written January 1988.  Accessed April 4, 2017.  http://www2.trincoll.edu/~kiener/INTS206_HAMAS_Leaflet_1.htm


Hroub, Khaled.  “Hamas, Israel and Judaism.”  In Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide, 34-44.  London: Pluto Press, 2010.


Hroub, Khaled.  “Hamas’ History.”  In Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide, 1-14.  London: Pluto Press, 2010.


Smith, Charles D.  Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.  Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017.

[1] Charles D Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017), 399.

[2] Hamas, “Leaflet No. 1,” Trinity College, January 1988, accessed April 4, 2017, http://www2.trincoll.edu/~kiener/INTS206_HAMAS_Leaflet_1.htm

[3] Hamas, “Leaflet No. 1.”

[4] Hamas, “Leaflet No. 1.”

[5] Khaled Hroub, “Hamas, Israel and Judaism,“ in Hamas: A Beginner’s Guide (London: Pluto Press, 2010), 34.

[6] Hroub, “Hamas, Israel and Judaism,” 35.

[7] Hroub, “Hamas, Israel and Judaism,” 35.

[8] Hroub, “Hamas, Israel and Judaism,” 37.

[9] Hamas, “Leaflet No. 1.”

[10] Hamas, “Leaflet No. 1.”

[11] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 407.

[12] Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” 407.

[13] Ziad Abu-Amr, “Hamas: A Historical and Political Background,” Journal of Palestine Studies 22, no. 4 (Summer, 1993): 12.

[14] Hamas, “Leaflet No. 1.”

Historiography: Methods and Approaches

This week, we looked at various types of historiographical essays, recognizing that while there may be wrong ways to treat a historiographical approach to history, there is no set “right” way of crafting an essay on the subject.  In fact, the approach and ultimate goal of writing historiographical essays seems to vary by the author, their interpretations of various historiographical trends in their chosen subject and how they choose to address often overwhelming amounts of research on the topics they’ve selected.  What is important for any historiographical project is to identify sources, identify the historiographical approaches that have been utilized over time and to write a clear interpretation of those approaches in whatever manner best suites the author.  In addition to understanding the basis of historiographical research, we were given three examples of historiographical writing that varied widely in organization and approach to the subject of Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition.

In the example laid out in chapter 6 of our textbook, Brundage gives an example of a historiographical essay arranged chronologically by order of the historiographical writings on the topic of the expedition.  While it is clear and concise, the topics are spread out throughout the essay, making it difficult to focus on one specific area of study within the field of the Lewis and Clark expedition.[1]  Ms. Autran’s essay which is quoted in the book is a great example of historiographic writing, but jumping back and forth between subjects based on the chronological time of writing was difficult for me to follow.

Our second example was the one that suited me best.  I’m not sure if it’s how I learn, how I process what I read, or how I like to organize things myself as a personal preference, but Moulton’s example of a historiographical essay on Lewis and Clark was much better organized in my option by subject matter instead of chronologically.[2]  He covered topics such as the source documents, the participants, the tools and many more aspects of the journey and how they’ve all been addressed by previously historical writing.[3]  It was a very easy-to-read narrative which summarized previously historiographical approaches to the expedition and it was easy to go back and re-read a particular section about an aspect of the journey that interested me personally after my first read-through.

The last example presented in this module by Cayton was an excellent example of a critical essay on an often studied subject.[4]  In the form of a book review, Cayton takes issue with some of the licenses that Slaughter took in his recent book about the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Cayton agrees that taking licenses with historiography is not a bad thing, but inferring those interpretations as fact without being supported by the evidence OR the previous centuries of historiography on the topic is.[5]  While I may not personally like some of his rhetoric in his narrative, it is a good example for me personally of when historiography goes too far into claiming speculation and interpretation as absolute fact when in reality, a lot of historical topics cannot be known with absolute certainty when assessed through the lens of bias and interpretation.

[1] Patricia J Autran, The Lewis and Clark Expedition: Changing Interpretations, quoted in Anthony Brundage, Going to the Sources, (West Sussex UK, Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 96-108.

[2]Gary E. Mouton “On Reading Lewis and Clark: The Last Twenty Years,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 38, no. 3 (1988): 28-39.

[3] Ibid, 30.

[4] Andrew R L Cayton, “Telling Stories about Lewis and Clark: Does History Still Matter?” Great Plains Quarterly 24, no. 4 (2004): 283-287.

[5] Ibid, 284.

The People’s Army – Provincials in the 7 Years’ War

The central theme of Fred Anderson’s “People’s Army” seems to be distinguishing the cultural milieu of provincial volunteers from their British regular counterparts. By highlighting and evaluating these differences, Anderson is able to efficiently separate the New World society from that of the old mother country, allowing the New Englanders to develop and identify a distinct, separate identity, helping to foster revolutionary ideals a few years later.

Anderson supports his theme in many ways, by exploring several avenues of distinction between the regular and provincial forces.  Beginning by discussing the events leading up to the outbreak of the 7 years’ war as well as the makeup of armies in New England prior to the war, Anderson sets the stage for the forthcoming chapters.  Where the distinctions between the New England provincials and the British regulars really starts to take shape, however, is in discussing the various interactions that the two groups had with each other.  Anderson takes great care to explain normative societal functions in New England, with most young men not leaving their home town for the majority (if not all) of their lives.  To go out into the world as a fresh provincial volunteer and see the scope of the British army was a huge culture shock to a lot of these soldiers, and that was demonstrated time and time again with interactions between them and the British.[1]

Due to the short-term nature of service of the entire provincial force, they could not hope to obtain the experience, professionalism or battle-hardness of their British counterparts, and that was seen by the British as a deficiency that was noticed and commented on time and time again.[2]  Furthermore, the cultural ideas of covenants and contracts that the New Englanders held as the central understanding of their culture was so completely foreign to British commanders that they further held that against the provincial forces.[3]  For all intents and purposes, the soldiers volunteering for service in the 7 years’ war from New England viewed themselves, surprisingly, as employees working under contract – not for the British, but for the New England towns that raised the forces and sent them out.[4]  As such, they had little regard for authority of any stripe past their terms of enlistment, and were never capable of obtaining the same battle-hardness and efficiency of the British troops, making British leadership underestimate and devalue them – a costly error in judgement that was to cost the British North America in the years ahead.[5]


[1] Fred Anderson, A People’s Army: Massachusetts Soldiers & Society in the Seven Year’s War (Williamsburg, VA: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), 111-141.

[2] Ibid, 142-165.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

Book Review: New England Bound

Wendy Warren’s “New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America” highlights the necessary relationship of the slave trade between the New England colonies and the West Indies, and focuses the vast research available from the time period with precise aim at the symbiotic nature between the institution of slavery and the prosperity of Colonial New England. By critically examining primary sources, diving deeply into the nature of the relationship between the slave trade and the growing wealth of many New England merchants, Warren is able to create the scope of the slave trade in the early American colonies and highlight the relationship between slaves and New England wealth in a way that has not previously been connected, examined or explored.  She goes further with her thesis than even establishing that symbiosis, however, to implicitly state that the social and economic life of the New England colonies rested on upon a foundation of institutionalized chattel slavery.[1]

Although ambitious in both scope and material, Warren’s relatively brief work takes a thorough look at the formation, practice and growth of industrialized slavery in the colonies of New England, and her precise and supported interpretations of sources highlighted connections that are often overlooked between economic growth, trade and slavery, indicating and demonstrably showing that the former could not have experienced such conclusive growth without the later.  Her early chapters draw on the early beginnings of slavery within New England as settlers began flocking to a new world, with the first mention of African slaves occurring in 1638.[2]  Although common to associate slavery in America with the Antebellum South, to do so does a great disservice to the entry of the institution very early in American history.  According to Warren, the common and acceptable practice of slavery in New England almost from the beginning of colonization is a critical piece to understanding the growth of slavery in the country as a whole, and the particular practice of slavery in the pious and prosperous Northeast.[3]  Very early in New England history, the colonies were indisputably tied to other English holdings – especially in the Indies – where slavery was not only a normal part of society, but a critical feature of it.[4]  Founding colonies was labor-intensive work, and while colonists made several attempts to meet this demand through either indentured servitude or through the enslavement of Native Americans, neither of these enterprises were as sufficient or profitable as imported, African slaves.[5]  Since Puritan society rested upon the idea of a social hierarchy, equality was not a necessary or doctrinally sound idea, and slavery did not contradict the religious beliefs of the early colonists.[6]

Although plantation-style slavery never developed in Colonial New England as it did in the American south, it was common in industries in the West Indies, one of the chief trading partners with the early colonies.  New England was able to trade food to the Indies – in many cases “racializing” food and exporting goods that were not fit for European consumption but was more than sufficient for slaves – and received cash crops like sugar and tobacco that could not be grown in the New England soil.[7] The establishment of this trade relationship cemented the need for slave labor in the colonies, and formed the basis for the institution of slavery in New England, lasting past the revolutionary war.[8]

Warren also points out that, by necessity, the experience of slavery in New England was much different than what could be expected either in the south or in the West Indies.  Slaves in the Northeastern colonies were very much a part of the daily lives of their masters, often working side by side and inside the household instead of segregated to back-breaking plantation work and separated from their white masters.[9]  Although proximity and access differed from that of other places and slaves were thereby members of their master’s household, it would be a mistake to think that it meant they were members of the family.[10]  Slaves were set apart socially and culturally, and many prolific writers of the New England colonies like Cotton Mather maintained that control over slaves was necessary and obedience must be demanded.[11]  Slavery reached its peak in New England around 1750, and then began to decline with revolutionary ideology and a growing abolitionist movement.[12]

While Warren’s thesis and supporting sources are sound, the vast scope of the often-overlooked aspect of New England’s history make it difficult to explore in its entirety without taking licenses to gloss over aspects that should be more thoroughly examined, and the jump from chapter to chapter, while connected, feels like moving from one book to the next.  The book’s theme is cohesive, but individual chapters are less-so, and the layout could have been made more acceptable for the lay-reader who is less than familiar with the topic.  While breaks in chapters make sense in the context of the chapter itself, they make less sense with the scope of the work overall, and make the reading seem choppy instead of smooth-flowing from one overarching focus to the next.  A thorough look at all of the themes in this book would require an encyclopedia’s worth of pages, so an in-depth approach to any one of this books’ many tributaries would be impossible to convey in a single work, making the choppiness more understandable.  The abrupt beginnings and endings, however, seem to alienate the reader from the topic which is a critical mistake for a book that focuses on something so fundamental important to the understanding of American history and the institution of slavery in the United States overall.  Legislative matters and interpersonal relationships could have been better served interspersed throughout a more cohesive, over-arching progression through events rather than be given their own respective chapters, and the timeline throughout the work is not consistent.  The reader, therefore, is forced to go back and forth between multiple chapters that all rest on the same decade, attempting to piece together chronological events.  The book could have been better off as a chronological progression from the origins of the New England colonies through the revolution, with all aspects of slavery discussed in their particular space, rather than disjointed into multiple chapters for the same period of years based on the chapter’s particular theme.

Although structurally and chronologically the book falls short of its potential, the content within it is more than adequate to paint a clear picture of early American history and put institutionalized slavery in the North Eastern colonies in its rightful place of prominence.  By highlighting just how essential slavery was for economic success in Colonial New England and hinting towards the abolitionist sentiments already on the horizon by the early to mid-18th century, Warren leaves room for growth in future works while setting the stage for a comprehensive view on slavery’s symbiotic relationship with the colonies’ economic success.




Warren, Wendy. New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2016.

[1] Wendy Warren, New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2016), 1-16.

[2] Ibid, 17-49.

[3] Warren, 17-49.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 49-82.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid, 84-97.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid, 259.

The War of Spanish Succession – Modern Warfare and Throwbacks to a Previous Era


Although warfare continued to advance and evolve through the 18th century, a lot of military conflict and engagements continued to harken back to practices, strategies and techniques of previous eras, even though allowances were made for the near-exclusive use of gunpowder for the infantry alongside cavalry.  While new strides were taken in troop makeup (pikemen were made virtually irrelevant with the prevalence of bayonets) and in the standards for siege warfare, fortifications and defensive positions, a lot remained the same.[1]  In addition, armies grew larger and were organized under state control, and administration of the armed forces grew stronger and more aligned throughout Europe as the aristocracy recognized a need for stricter control over their troops due to the high probability of desertion.[2]


Medical technology, for example, had not caught up to military technology, and thousands upon thousands of soldiers suffered from disease, wounds and injuries with little to no hope of treatment or recovery.[3]  The cost of campaigns in loss of lives was enormous for relatively small gains in territory or power, and pitched battles were hardly decisive victory conditions for powers at war with each other throughout Europe.  In addition, warfare became more global, as powers struggled in Europe, their holdings in the New World often continued the conflict far from their home countries.


The War of Spanish Succession was one of those conflicts that originated primarily in Europe, but spread far beyond the Continent to both North America and the Caribbean.  Fearful that Spain and France would ally under familial bonds, England, Austria and the Habsburg dynasty united to fight against French interests and expansions in Europe and abroad.  Contrary to the standards of the time, English commander John Churchill fought rapid and dynamic against the French, and made significant initial progress.  Typical for the 18th century, however, siege warfare gained far more prevalence than open confrontation and laying siege to row upon row of defensive fortifications built to withstand such tactics became physically, psychologically and emotionally draining in terms of morale and fortitude. [4]  In the end, despite initial victories, the English, Austrian and Habsburg forces became bogged down and could progress no further.[5]  France had maintained the status-quo of European power, but at enormous cost both financially and in terms of manpower that would have lasting impacts on the French aristocracy, its holdings in the Americas and ultimately contributing to the French revolution.[6]


[1] Christon I. Archer, John R. Ferris, Holger H. Herwig and Timothy H.E. Travers, World History of Warfare (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 328-329.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.


Non-Western Warfare in the 15th Century

It’s clear that the development of warfare and society in the east diverged and developed much differently than it did in the European dominated west.  The question this week asks why.  In our first essay, the author compares the isolationist-leaning specialist troops of the Ottoman Janissaries and the Japanese Samurai, and discusses potential reasons for their aversion to gunpowder technology.  Both of these specialty troops were not only their respective nations’ elites, but they were a different societal class than common warriors that were either pressed into military service or compelled to serve a Lord.  The European model of warfare in this period emphasized chivalry, and their warfare centered on Knights – and then ranged gunpowder weaponry as knights began to lose prominence in favor of newer, more effective technology.[1]  Both the Janissaries and the Samurai, however, refused to adapt to the new gunpowder usage and preferred traditional methods, including the famous Samurai sword which was as much a symbol of prestige as it was a weapon.[2]

Although both the Janissaries and the Samurai began as specialized military orders, they moved from warfare applications to more administrative roles in their respective cultures.  Yet they both desired to retain their status as warriors and a special class above the common people.  Ultimately both of these units failed to live up to their reputations and were eliminated by the cultures that they originally served.[3]   For both Japanese and Ottoman cultures, gunpowder and gunpowder weaponry, although advancing far faster than their traditional weapons, would be “beneath” these military elites, and their refusal to adapt to their usage set both of these cultures behind the technological progress of their European counterparts.

China, unlike Japan, did have a period of expansionist policies under the explorations of Zheng He.  Yet later Emperors denied his progress towards Chinese expansion and exploration, tainted his accomplishments and made future exploratory exploits illegal.[4]  While it is possible that Kristof’s explanation for this shift in opinion can be attributed to Chinese isolationism, this policy cost them dearly as Europe began to explore, trade and dominate Asian waters.  I would imagine the counter to this argument would be that it was isolationism and a combination of other factors, namely political distrust and internal discord that encouraged the change in policy as new Emperors came to power and sought to make a name for themselves through internal policies rather than external exploration.

[1] Oleg Benesch, “Comparing Warrior Traditions: How the Janissaries and Samurai Maintained Their Status and Privileges During Centuries of Peace,” Comparative Civilizations Review (2006): Vol. 55 no. 6, 50.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Nicholas Kristof, from “1492: The Prequel,” The New York Times Magazine (June 6, 1999).