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).

The Battle of Agincourt

The Battle of Agincourt marked a definitive English victory against a much larger, heavily armored French force which is known as a turning point in English/French hostilities in the 100 years’ war.  Although the smaller English force dominated the French army, it is not fair to say that superior military technology and dependence on archers won the victory for the English forces.  Instead, the English victory can ultimately be attributed to a combination of factors including the conditions on the battlefield, previous weather that caused massive amounts of mud on the battlefield as well and the superiority of the English archers over the French crossbowmen.

In the moments leading up to the battle, the French organized their forces in three main parts.  The van included most of the French leadership, 8,000 helmets which included both knights and men at arms with 1200 mounted as well as 4000 archers and 1500 crossbowmen.[1]  Following the van was the French main force which was comprised of an equal force of knights, archers, men at arms as the Van.[2]  The rear guard contained the surplus fighting force.  Combined, the French force is said to outnumber the fielded English army by a ratio of 6 to 1.[3] The English force, by contrast, sent 200 archers to secretly hide in a field near the battlefield to surprise the French as they approached with the rest of the archers, men at arms and dismounted knights.[4]  When both armies were completely formed, the English moved forward while the French remained in position, hemmed in on both sides by woods.[5]  The English, on the offensive, were able to stop periodically for rest in the muddy ground as they advanced.[6]  When the archers were in range, they fired upon the French Van, wounding or killing many.[7]  The French cavalry mounted an attack against the English archers, but many were mowed down by the English longbows which had much greater range than the French crossbows, and the barrage of arrows distressed the horses and sent them into disarray.[8]  As the horses of the heavy French cavalry bolted, the English men at arms as well as the archers equipped with pikes and axes began hand to hand combat.[9]  As the French van disintegrated, the English were able to attack the main force, despite a desperate French move to attack the rear.[10]  All French prisoners were ordered to be summarily executed to prevent them from joining French resistance in sight of the French front lines, further demoralizing the French.[11]

The English smaller fighting force proved superior to the larger French force, in large part, due to better organization, a willingness to follow orders more readily than their French counterparts who were thrown into disarray due to the continual volleys of arrows and the ability to recognize and seize the opportunities presented to them on the field of battle.[12]  Although the English longbow men were far superior in both range and accuracy to the French crossbows, their abilities alone did not claim the battle for the English.[13]  Ultimately the French placed too much faith in the arrogance of superior numbers and did not fully prepare themselves for the reality of the battle that they faced, cementing Agincourt as the best the English had to offer and the worst the French could muster simultaneously.[14]  Previous weather in Agincourt created a muddy battlefield that wreaked havoc on the French heavily armored troops, miring them in the mud, preventing them from reaching full speed in their cavalry charge and leaving them vulnerable to repeated arrow volleys from the English longbow men.[15]  By forcing a French charge and provoking the French into the battle due to increased pressure from both the archers and the hand to hand combat of the men at arms, the French rushed the English, exhausting themselves in the mud before they ever had a chance to reach the front line only to be cut down either by arrows or by swords.[16]

Although many more battles had to be fought to secure the English crown in France, Agincourt demonstrated the English professionalism and control in what seemed to be dire circumstances.  While English archers are often given sole credit for the Agincourt victory, a more fair description of the battle would also include the conditions, the strategy of Henry over the French lords and the willingness to comply with their leader’s orders over the disarray displayed by French forces.  Agincourt remains a unanimous and decisive victory for the English, though it gained King Henry V very little in the 100 years’ war and many more battles followed before a definitive victory over the French could be claimed.






De Monstrelet, Enguerrand.  “Battle of Agincourt, 1415.”  Deremilitari.org. Internet.  Available from http://deremilitari.org/2013/02/battle-of-agincourt-1415/, accessed 20 January 2017.



Ellis-Peterson, Hannah and Isabelle Fraser.  “Battle of Agincourt: 10 Reasons Why the French Lost to Henry V’s Army.”  The Telegraph.  Internet.  Available from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/8648068/Battle-of-Agincourt-ten-reasons-why-the-French-lost.html, accessed 27 January 2017.



Kerr, Wilfred Brenton.  “The English Soldier in the Campaign of Agincourt.”  The Journal of the American Military Institute 4, no. 4 (1940): 209-224.


Renna, Thomas. “Battle of Agincourt.” Salem Press Encyclopedia (January 2015): Research Starters, EBSCOhost (accessed January 27, 2017).

[1] Enguerrand De Monstrelet, “Battle of Agincourt, 1415,” Deremilitari.org, Internet, Available from http://deremilitari.org/2013/02/battle-of-agincourt-1415/, accessed 20 January 2017.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Hannah Ellis-Peterson and Isabelle Fraser, “Battle of Agincourt: 10 Reasons Why the French Lost to Henry V’s Army,” The Telegraph, Internet, Available from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/8648068/Battle-of-Agincourt-ten-reasons-why-the-French-lost.html, accessed 27 January 2017.

[6] Enguerrand De Monstrelet.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Wilfred Brenton Kerr,  “The English Soldier in the Campaign of Agincourt,”  The Journal of the American Military Institute 4, no. 4 (1940): 209-224.

[9] Enguerrand De Monstrelet.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Kerr.

[13] Ibid.


[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

Infantry and Gunpowder

Through the middle ages, infantry was often relegated to an almost overlooked status in favor of the prominence of knights and the ideals of chivalry and cavalry.  In many battles, the full number of combatants was unknown since the infantry wasn’t even counted as part of the force.[1]  Between the end of the medieval age and the early stages of the gunpowder age, however, the infantry started to regain a position of recognition and importance on the battlefield along with (and occasionally instead of) their cavalry counterparts.[2]

Archers were often a deadly and terror-inducing infantry force, especially among the Muslim armies at the end of the medieval period.[3]  Although cavalry was used as a shock force the route the infantry and cavalry of the opposition, it is fair to say that in many medieval battles, the infantry did the overwhelming majority of the fighting.[4]  In addition to the infantry which faced opposition to the enemy’s ground troops, archers were incredibly useful for occupying and destroying the opponent’s cavalry forces and keeping the cavalry from approaching the front lines at full force.

It is indisputable that the gunpowder age completely changed the role of infantry in warfare and supplied ranged weapons that could devastate an opposing force either in the field or in a siege.  At the beginning of the gunpowder age, many people resented the fact that a “lowly foot soldier” with a firearm could take down a knight.[5]  Defensive structures and fortifications had to be updated against the rapidly advancing weapon technology.[6]  Italy in particular had to take the lead for developing defenses to counter heavier siege guns.[7]  Technological advancements focused in two specific directions – artillery and mobile handguns.[8]   Contrary to the medieval period, more and more European powers recognized the importance and prominence of infantry combined with guns over the traditional medieval cavalry.  The Spanish deployed formations that combined arquebusiers and pikemen for protection against enemy cavalry and infantry.[9]  The Spanish tercio formation formed a square shape that was incredibly difficult – if not impossible – to penetrate.[10]  Due to the importance of pikemen to defend the gunners, maintaining the standard for training of the pikemen was imperative for the unit’s ultimate success.

[1] Christon I. Archer, John r. Ferris, Holger H Herwig, Timothy H E Travers, World History of Warfare (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 150.

[2] Ibid 150.

[3] Ibid 158.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid 220.

[6] Ibid 220.

[7] Ibid 224.

[8] Ibid 224.

[9] Ibid 239.

[10] Ibid.