Jomini on the Nature of War – Part III – The Founder of Modern Strategy

Napoleon at Arcola

This post continues from Jomini on the Nature of War: Part I Introduction here and Part II The Burgeoning Military Theorist here. Please note links in blue lead to additional information on those topics.

Baron Antoine-Henri de Jomini, who was a product of the Napoleonic era, attempted to make warfare “scientific.”[i] According to Shy, this led him to reduce the study of war “…to a preoccupation with ‘strategy’ – a set of prescriptive techniques for military analysis and planning that has continued to dominate thinking on the subject.”[ii]

“…His general approach to the problem of war, abstracting it from its political and social context, emphasizing decision-making rules and operations results, turning warfare into a huge game of chess, has been surprisingly durable. Jomini more than Clausewitz, deserves the dubious title of founder of modern strategy.”[iii]

The core of Jomini’s theory of warfare, which he set down as a young man in 1803, was that:Jomini

  • “strategy is the key to warfare
  •  all strategy is controlled by invariable scientific principles
  •  these principles prescribe offensive action to mass forces against weaker enemy forces at some decisive point in strategy is to lead to victory.”[iv]

What is a decisive point?

One whose attack or capture would imperil or seriously weaken the enemy.[v] 

More in next post….

[i, ii, iii, iv, v] John Shy, “Jomini,” in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, ed. Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 144 – 146.

Jomini on the Nature of War – Part II – The Burgeoning Military Theorist

This post continues from Part I here. Please note links in blue lead to additional information on those topics.

Church of PayerneAntoine-Henri Jomini (below right) was born on March 6, 1779 in the small town of Payerne (Payerne church pictured right) in western Switzerland. His family was an old and influential one; his father Benjamin active in local politics. Jomini grew up with the French Revolution and the sight of French soldiers was something he was familiar with even as a boy. He was a teenager working in banking in Paris when the Swiss Revolution of 1798 broke out, largely instigated by the French at the proding of exiled Swiss radicals. Jomini’s father joined the revolutionary cause and served in various political roles in the Helvetian Republic. Antoine-Henri caught the fever of revolution as well and returned home where, at the age of nineteen, he became the secretary to the Swiss minister of war. He attained military rank (captain) and a reputation for being bright, diligent, and full of ambition. ByBaron Antoine-Henri de Jomini twenty-one, he had command of a battalion. [i]

It was during this time that he began a vigorous study of military history. John Shy suggests that Jomini was…

“obsessed by visions of military glory, with himself imitating the incredible rise of Bonaparte (below right) who was only ten years his senior, but in a telling phrase Jomini remembers being possessed, even then, by “le sentiment des principes” — the Platonic faith that reality lies beneath the superficial chaos Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Ageof the historical moment in enduring and invariable principles, like those of gravitation and probability. To grasp those principle, as well as to satisfy the more primitive emotional needs of ambition and youthful impatience, was what impelled him to the study of war. Voracious reading of military history and theorizing from it would reveal the secret of French victory.” [ii]

The Luneville Treaty of 1801 (see exerpts here) ended the Napoleonic Wars and Jomini returned to Paris where he maintained a devotion to the study and writing of military theory. He had been enthralled by Napoleon’s leadership. It is beyond disptue that the French had achieved a breakthrough in warfare and Jomini was about trying to find out how they had done it.

“Answering this question, persuasively and influentially, would be Jomini’s great achievement. The wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon generated a vast, receptive audience for the Napoleonkind of clear, simple, reassuring explanation that he would offer. Drawing overtly on the prestige of ‘science’ and yet almost religious in its insistent evangelical appeal to timeless verities, Jomini’s answer to this troubling question seemed to dispel the confusion and allay much of the fear created by French military victories.” [iii]

By 1804, Jomini had completed his Traité des grandes opérations militaires (Treastise on Great MilitaNeyry Operations). He managed to ingratiate himself to General Michel Ney (right), leader of Bonaparte’s Sixth Corps, who had served for a time as French viceroy in Switzerland. Ney helped him to publish this first book. It would find its way to Napoleon and Jomini’s life would be forever changed. [iv]

Jomini’s principles would also find their way to West Point in the years preceeding the American Civil War. In Part III, I’ll discuss what those principles were.

[i] Hugh Chisholm, The Encyclopedia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information. 11th Ed, Volume XV. (Cambridge, England: At the University Press, 1911), 495. Accessed online 2/23/2008: here.
[ii, iii, iv] John Shy, “Jomini,” in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, ed. Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 144 – 149.
Photos: Public Domain – Wiki Commons

Jomini on the Nature of War – Part I – Introduction

Baron Antoine-Henri de Jomini

Baron Antoine-Henri de JominiMakers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age
I’d like to begin a series of posts on Baron Antoine-Henri de Jomini. I had the opportunity to study Jomini along with other military strategists in a previous course, Great Military Philosophers which you can read more about on the courses page here, and wanted to come back to that material to dive in a bit deeper in. Why Jomini you might ask and what has he to do with the American Civil War? John Shy, in an excellent essay on Jomini that appears in one of my favorite books, Makers of Modern Strategy from Machieavelli to the Nuclear Age, wrote that “three names that stand out in the formative period of modern military thought: Napoleon, Clausewitz, and Jomini.”[i]







Everyone has heard of Napoleon. Many familiar with history have heard of the Prussian Carl von Clausevitz. But Jomini remains largely unknown outside of the military. And yet, Shy contends, Jomini’s “influence on both military theory and popular conceptions of warfare has been enormous.” [ii] His theories were known by militarists in many countries and certainly in the United States both before, during and after the American Civil War. More to come…


[i], [ii] John Shy, “Jomini,” in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, ed. Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 144.

Photos are in the public domain. Source: Wiki commons.

Academic Book Review – George Bancroft

George Bancroft. By Russel B. Nye. New York: Washington Square Press, Inc. 1964. Bibliography. Pp. x, 212. $.60.

If biographies written in the twenty-first century tend toward tomes, Russel Nye’s 1964 work on George Bancroft, the most acclaimed American historian of the nineteenth century, demonstrates how to impress with a modicum of words. Though Bancroft’s life spanned almost a century, Nye skillfully paints a portrait of the man against the sweeping landscape of the United States’ passage from fledgling country at the turn of 18th century to battle-scarred nation ninety years later, all in fewer than two hundred pages.

Nye’s book is part of the Washington Square Press “Great American Thinkers Series,” targeting an audience of general readers as well as serious secondary and college students who want readable history. George Bancroft as subject is in good company among other well known Americans included in the series, like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John C. Calhoun. Series editors provided a general outline for Nye to follow, which included a short biography of the subject, a critical evaluation of his central ideas, and his influence upon American thought as a whole.

Nye approaches the task in a somewhat unconventional manner. He begins and ends with reasonably standard material. A chronology of key events in Bancroft’s life is placed in the front matter of the book, beginning with his birth in 1800 and ending with his death in 1891. End materials include a list of Bancroft’s extensive published works and a complete bibliography and index. It is in the book’s narrative that Nye shows structural creativity. He reveals Bancroft by coming at the subject from six different directions: life history, views on education, artistic and cultural perspectives, formation as a politician, views on humanity and the divine, and Bancroft’s contribution to historiography.

The first chapter, titled “The Pattern of a Life,” provides a highly readable narrative overview of Bancroft’s ninety-one years. Nye begins with the family and culture into which Bancroft was born, and then explores his passage through school years, including entry into Harvard at the age of 13. His formative years studying abroad are covered next, and insight is provided into the effects that European intellectuals and artists had on the now young man. Nye brings Bancroft home to the United States, doctorate in hand, and traces his quest for direction in life that leads him away from ministry and into politics and writing. His life as politician and as an emerging and then accomplished historian are described, as well as the events that bring a close to Bancroft’s life.

Nye devotes the entire second chapter, “Experiment at Round Hill,” to Bancroft’s daring project as schoolmaster of a preparatory school for boys in New England. Partnering with a colleague from Harvard, Bancroft incorporates in the endeavor the progressive concepts in education he observed while in Europe. But Bancroft has a love-hate relationship with teaching, and gradually realizes that his destiny lies elsewhere. As the chapter closes, he has sold his interest in the school to his partner and moved on, having left his mark on the history of American education as the creator of the first high school and a modeler of educational reform.

In the third chapter, “The Anatomy of Culture,” Nye explores the Romantic Movement’s impact on Bancroft and his contemporaries, and makes good use of the subject’s actual writing. Excerpts of Bancroft’s early attempts at poetry are presented by way of showing that, while his own poetic work was amateurish, he was able to channel his love for art into the role of literary critic, becoming quite adept at it. Nye does a masterful job of showing, through excerpts of Bancroft’s reviews and critiques, not only his appreciation of the artistic, but his gift for seeing broad themes like democracy in art. He also shows how Bancroft was able to bring his interest in artistic judgment and creation to his growing preoccupation with history. Instead of losing touch, “he absorbed his interest in art into the larger context of his theory of culture and his concept of history. To him, as to his contemporaries, the boundaries of intellectual specialization were fluid” (63). This fusion of the literary with history defined Bancroft’s historical writing. Nye’s ability to correlate the cultural milieu of early 19th century with Bancroft’s growth as philosopher, theologian, artistic critic, and historian is particularly well done.

Chapter 4, “The Fabric of American Political Life,” guides the reader through Bancroft’s life as a politician, and his metamorphosis into a Jacksonian democrat and political thinker. Again, Nye identifies themes from Bancroft’s writings and personal correspondence, including the idea that political figures are heroes to the populations they serve. Nye closes the chapter with a moving description of Bancroft’s role as eulogizer of Lincoln, a man who Bancroft grew to consider as a hero of some stature through the course of the Civil War. He also traces Bancroft’s evolving views on slavery.

In Chapter 5, “Nature: Human and Divine,” Nye explores how Bancroft came to his religious beliefs and his philosophical stand on the nature of humanity and the divine. This is an important topic because Bancroft’s theological thinking informed much of his historical writing and speaking. Nye shows Bancroft as a man of his times, influenced by the enthusiasm of a country running toward a bright future, and yet a man who contributed much to that nation because of his study abroad and exposure to many of the world’s foremost thinkers. Nye does a good job of showing how Bancroft reconciled his belief in man’s free will as long as it was exercised within the larger will of the divine.

In his final chapter, “The Shape and Meaning of History,” Nye looks as Bancroft the historian and the influence of his historiography. He provides an excellent overview of the state of historical study at the turn of and into the early 19thcentury, contrasting rationalistic historical theory against Romantic history a la Rankian Zeitgeist. His review of the expectations of historical writers in Bancroft’s generation is excellent. But most important in this chapter are the selections from Bancroft’s own essays, illustrating how he conceived of his own calling. His personal philosophy, which he put to paper not long after returning from studies in Europe, placed the office of the historian second only to the poet in its noble call to find God within history.

This perspective, Nye informs, pervaded the first three volumes of Bancroft’s most famous work, The History of the United States of America from the Discovery of the Continent, in which it was clear “that he was convinced that the United States was the creation of Divine Providence” (158). The second theme was that of man’s right to pursue freedom. Nye takes the reader through the completion and then revision of the seven volumes which took place over the course of most of Bancroft’s remaining life. He touches upon the influences of the American Civil War on his writing, and particularly on the volumes having to do with the Revolutionary War. Nye gives insight into Bancroft’s work style and ethic, as reflected in a two-volume work on the American Constitution. He interjects some deserved criticism of Bancroft who, he suggests over simplified the events surrounding the Constitution’s creation, ignoring “the whole tangled skein of economic and political rivalries, conflicting interests, and clashing personalities” (170).

Nye leaves the reader with a sense for Bancroft’s brilliance across a broad range of diverse interests. He paints him as a man who enjoyed the privileges of an education well beyond the norm of his day, and earned by an innate drive and love for scholarship. Nye’s Bancroft was comfortable with life choices that went against the norm, an indication of independent thought. But he was also a man of his times, influenced by the great thinkers of his era and yet contributing one of the most important voices of the nineteenth century. He brought to his generation a better sense of the American story, and to a large degree, popularized history with the first complete treatment of the United States through its inception as a nation. He was guided by a strong belief in divine providence and its hand upon America. But at his core, he was, as depicted by Nye, a scholarly man of letters – a distinction I suspect would have pleased Mr. Bancroft. His legacy is a remarkable body of work sadly forgotten by most citizens of the 21st century because of changing standards in historiography.

Nye does a masterful job of identifying Bancroft’s core beliefs and the influences that formed the man and his career. He also shows a considerable grasp of the nuances of both history and historiography that were in play in the 19thcentury – worth noting because Nye’s training is in literature rather than history. Like all series authors, Nye brings to the work a Ph.D. An English professor at Michigan State University, he might seem like an odd choice to profile a historian, but he proves himself equal to the task, perhaps because biography straddles both history and literature. His obvious mastery of the large collection of papers Bancroft left behind for his biographers is impressive.

Russel Nye was awarded the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for this work. Is there a better recommendation?

Rene Tyree
American Military University

Photo credit: Einstein at 42 from Wikipedia Commons. Public Domain

Italian wig-wags reader

I am immersed in preparing an outline due today for my research paper so you’ll forgive if I forgo a post other than to share that I have had a reader from Italy today or at least one who speaks Italian. As I mentioned last week when I showed you wig-wags in Greek, I’m able to see these as referrals from Google translator.

So who ever you are out there… Benvenuti!

wig-wags Italian reader

If you wrote history in the 19th century….

Russel Nye (1913-1993) provides a glimpse of what was expected of you if you wrote history in the early 19th century in his Pulitzer Prize winning biography of George Bancroft (1800-1891). I thought it worth sharing in that some of my readers are themselves authors of history. Those writing in the 19th century of the events leading up to and surrounding the American Civil War would have been aware of and influenced by these expectations.Thomas Carlyle

  • Historians were expected to deal with the history of living men. 

Protocols, state papers, and controversies were not the stuff of history. Here Nye draws on the work of Thomas Carlyle (1795-1891)(right) who felt that history was not simply to be “philosophy teaching by experience” but the history of men “with passions in their stomachs, and the idioms, features and vitalities of men.” (146)

  • History was to be dramatic.

“The historian gave the past form and structure, finding dramatic tension, climax, and resolution in chosen episodes and experience. He used quotations and set speeches as a playwright might – allowing ‘the parties,’ as William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859) (image right) saidPrescott, ‘not only to act but speak for themselves.'” (147) There had to be opposing forces battling against one another to achieve an effect of conflict. On one side might be the forces of liberty and on the other authoritarianism, popular government against absolutism, civilization versus barbarism, etc.

  • Proper historical writing had to have a theme.

A theme bound events together and gave them focus and meaning. This was a quest for the “pervading principle” which was guiding history and flowing beneath the stream of events.

  • The historian was to write in the way of an artistic painter.

His work has to be composed and arranged in and artistic, vivid and aesthetically pleasing way like that of a painting. “Historians habitually used such terms as ‘portrait,’ ‘canvas,’ and ‘sketch’; gave careful attention to composition and arrangement of details; and quite deliberately set up ‘scenes’ and ‘tableaux.'” (147)  [Image below of painting by Clarence Boyd from University of Kentucky Art Museum: Attacking Indians (or Pilgrims Being Attacked by Indians While at Church), ca. 1880]

Attacking Indians (or Pilgrims Being Attacked by Indians While at Church), ca. 1880

  • The historian must create in his work a precise sense of place, time and immediacy.

This task was about reconstructing the values and principles and the intellectual and moral atmosphere  of the times of which a writer wrote. Bancroft called it ‘the spirit of the age, the impalpable but necessary essence’ of a society.” (148)

Historical writing began to change in the latter part of the 19th century but the points above make for some interesting background for discussion that continues today around academic versus popular history and what appeals to the general reader.

George Bancroft, by Russel B. Nye, (New York: Washington Street Press, Inc., 1960), pp 146-148)
Drawing of Thomas Carlyle fro Wikipedia Commons. Another excellent biography of Thomas Carlyle is available here.
Thomas Carlyle– Project Gutenberg eText 13103
From The Project Gutenberg eBook, Great Britain and Her Queen, by Anne E. Keeling

History as Science

Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man

Should the study of history be scientific? The debate between historians, philosophers, and sociologist around whether history should be based on science has been a topic in my historiography class (see courses here). The biggest brouhaha took place in the late 1800’s when the world was still feeling the effects of the Industrial Revolution and scientific method was becoming all the rage.

Ernst Breisach

Ernst Breisach (left), who author’s our primary text for the class [Historiography: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern], provides a survey of this quest to find a reason for history and its place alongside other areas of study. He provides a look at the players in those countries most engaged in the debate: France, England, Germany, and America.

Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte, who I mentioned in my post here, was a player. He believed that man was of one collective mind and thus progressed intellectually as one. He proposed a model called “The Three Stages of History” which posited that all thought, emotive forces, and sciences progress through three eras: (1) theological, (2) metaphysical, and (3) positive. Events in the theological era were explained by “God’s will.” In the metaphysical era, they were explained by natural laws. Eventually, he predicted, man would enter an endless “positive” era where events could be explained by positive philosophy and laws. Society, politics, and culture would radically change in this state and man’s collective mind would  reach a pinnacle needing no further development. The sciences would organize human life according to laws governing phenomena. These laws would be based on sensory experience; things which could be observed. Comte felt that mankind was on the cusp of moving into that final stage which he predicted began with the French Revolution and would go on forever.

Comte’s Stages

Comte’s ideas fell flat among many. Contrarians argued that once this utopia in human development was reached, there would be little left to do. Not only that but the very foundations of idealist philosophy would be destabilized. God, ideas, uniqueness, and intuition would be considered irrelevant.

Buckle C
Henry Thomas Buckle

But the idea that science could lead to a higher stage of intellectual development governed by overarching laws stuck and a new school of thought was born that became known as “positivist.” Positivism grew in popularity and historians who embraced it began looking for overarching laws that governed, for example, the nature and destiny of nations. If the principles applied to the natural sciences could be applied to history, surely these laws would exist!

British historian Henry Thomas Buckle (right) jumped on the positivist band wagon and called on other British historians to fall in step with more scientific approaches or be ignored. His direction was to abandon the historiography of description in favor of an approach in line with natural sciences. The British didn’t buy it. With few exceptions, they remained attached to the notion that history required careful interpretation and narration by historians. Moral lessons could be found in history that were necessary for the education of the young. Viewing history as science was nothing less than dangerous.

Americans, on the other hand, took to historical science with enthusiasm. History associations and history journals were formed. University history departments in the model of other scientifically-based disciplines were created. The notion of professional and academic historians emerged and it wasn’t long before amateur historians were pushed aside. Breisach called it “The Great Divorce.” (p. 287) More on that in a later post. Americans never demanded nor sought great laws governing human affairs but embraced the benefits and ambiguities of “scientific history,” incorporated what were arguably the best of the interpretations  from around the world, and put an American stamp on it.

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

What else changed? Plenty. Documentation of sources became more important. Historical writing became more formal and less accessible or interesting to the reading public. If the style of writing didn’t change, it was criticized. So “literary” and “romantic” history became passe. Thus the work of such notable historians as George Bancroft became discredited. Historians began to specialize. The use of quantitative methods Depiction of the data items found in the perspectives of the Zachman Frameworkas a basis for drawing historical conclusions grew. [Needless to say, a paradigm-shift in quantitative methods occurred as a result of computer technology in the 20th century.] Economic history surged as a field of study in the early 20th century and continues strong today.

Not everyone has approved over the years. Breisach provides a wonderful quote by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.  who said that the really important questions of historical inquiry are important because they can’t be quantified. Teddy Roosevelt, Jr.  protested accusing professional historians of becoming so enamored with detailed research that they “did much real harm in preventing the development of students who might have a large grasp of what history should be.” (p. 288)

Teddy Roosevelt, Jr.

Certainly both the quantitative and the qualitative have a place in the study of history. There is no doubt that methods used in other fields like economics, data analysis and statistics can provide great insight into the study of history (See Cliometrics). This is the stuff that counter-factual analysis was built on. But finding the right balance remains a challenge.

Of interest, positivism had a rebirth in the 1920s but, interestingly, proponents of the narrative form of history surged back in the 1960s as humanists challenged pure scientific historiography. For me, there will always be a place for outstanding narrative in the telling of history. Like the British at the turn of the century, I believe in well told history that occasionally has a brilliant moral in the telling.Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, Third Edition

Ernst Breisach, Historiography: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, (The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2007). Chapter referenced: “History and the Quest for a Uniform Science.”

Copyright Rene Tyree 2008

Image of depiction of the data items found in the perspectives of the Zachman Framework by Stan Locke, January 2008, Wikipedia.
Other photos from Wikipedia Commons, public domain.
Diagram of Comte’s Three Stages of History, self-made, Rene Tyree, Feb. 13, 2008.

Rotov on Suffering

Catching up on my reading, I found Dimitri Rotov’s post [here] on Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering to be Death and the American Civil Warinsightful. Follow his links to his previous posts as well. He suggests that Faust may step in for James McPherson as leading Civil War historian. While I gather he isn’t a fan of the latter, he seems to be of the former. I look forward to his upcoming review.

You may recall that I mentioned receiving Faust’s book in my posting here. It’s near the top of my review list.

For more information on Faust and McPherson, see my the historians page here.

wig-wags in Greek!

One of the very cool things about blogging is being able to see the sites from which some readers come (referrers as WordPress calls them). Tonight I saw for the first time a referral from a Google’s translation page. I clicked on the page and it appears that I have had a Greek reader checking out the courses page which describes my program! Here’s a screen print. Check it out…wig-wags in Greek! Made my day.

wig-wags in Greek

Addition to My Blogroll

I’ve recently added ELEKTRATIG to my blogroll. He and I have cross-referenced several posts on topics like the inevitability of the American Civil War (available here) and he has always provided thoughtful comments.

Today, he has a post on George Bancroft that you can read here which speaks to the special relationship that Bancroft had with President James Polk. Bancroft was instrumental in Polk receiving the democratic nomination in 1844 because he was able to swing the Massachusetts vote his way. Bancroft became, as a result, the most powerful Democrat in Massachusetts.[i]

As Elektratig mentions, today not a lot of people know of Bancroft but for citizens of the nineteenth century he was, as biographer Robert Canary put it, “one of the first great American historians and one of the most widely read American historical writers of his time.”[ii]

Naval historians will know that it was Bancroft who founded the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis while serving as Secretary of the Navy under President Polk. (Below is Bancroft Hall at Annapolis).

For more information:
George Bancroft, American Historian available here.
Book Review: George Bancroft available here.
2008 Democratic Convention Guide here.
Secretary of the Navy available here.

Bancroft Hall

[i] Russel B. Nye, George Bancroft, (New York: Washington Square Press. Inc., 1964), 10.

[ii] Robert H. Canary, George Bancroft, (New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1974), i.

New Pages

As my studies progress, I’ve found need of several more pages on the blog. Those of you who roam around a bit will know that I’ve intentionally used the more static “page” feature of my blog template to accumulate information that I’m picking up from classes and research. To that end, I’ve added the following:


the philosophers / sociologists 
I’ve discovered a group of people that aren’t pure historians and who have influenced thought in areas not specific to military history. You’ll only find Auguste Comte there so far but watch for more (interesting fellow – pictured here).

the terms 
I’ve got a ton of new words / terminology coming my way and I need a spot to jot them down and eventually define them. I’d also like to be able to go back to them in one spot. It’s looking very highbrow-ish to me now that I’ve added words from today’s reading in Breisach. You, on the other hand, may look at the words and think I must have been sleeping in Freshman general ed classes. OK I knew some of these terms before today!


the railroads
It occurred to me when I did my two posts on the railroads and the American Civil War just how important the rails were to this – arguably – first modern war. Since I also have a page on the ships, I decided to begin collecting railroad information as well. For now it has links to the two railroad-specific post I made last month. More to come.

Finally, I’ve add a kudos page which it’s possible is an act of shameful self-aggrandisement but I prefer to think of it as a karmic act of thanks to those folks who have taken the time to make a nice comment either on my blog or theirs. It’s my modest plug back to them and where possible, I provide a link to their site. Thanks to all for the encouragement. And if I missed anyone, I’ll hope to fill in the gaps shortly. Oh and by all means, if you’d prefer I take you name off of this page, do let me know.

Top photo: Auguste Comte. Public Domain. Source: Wikicommons.
Middle photo: Station at Hanover Junction, Pa., showing an engine and cars. In November 1863 Lincoln had to change trains at this point to dedicate the Gettysburg Battlefield. LOC: 111-B- 83.

Historical Presentism

John AdamsI am on the hunt for examples of Historical Presentism, the notion of reading the present into the past. David Hackett Fischer in his work, Historians’ Fallaciessays that “…the fallacy of presentism is a common failing in historical writing by men who have never been trained in the discipline of history.”Peter Charles Hoffer, when going back to publish his Harvard dissertation Liberty or Order, admits that after reading Fischer’s book he felt he was himself guilty of historical presentism. But, he said, “I am comforted that the same charge can be laid against Jefferson, John Adams (above), and all of the other revolutionaries studied.”2 I need to finish reading his book to find out why but what a fascinating assertion.

For my own enlightenment and education, I’d be interested to hear of other examples any of you may have of historical presentism.

By the way, in researching the authors I’m reading, I am always fascinated to find out what accomplished historians and scholars they are. I’ve added both professor Fischer and professor Hoffer to my “the historians” page here where you can read more about them.

Historians' Fallacies : Toward a Logic of Historical Thought

Fischer1David Hackett Fischer, Historians’ Fallacies, Toward a Logic of Historical Thought (New York, 1970), 137.

Hoffer2 Peter Charles Hoffer, Liberty or Order: Two Views of American History from the Revolutionary Crisis to the Early Works of George Bancroft and Wendell Phillips (New York, 1988), ii.

The Series

I’ve had a fair amount of interest in the following series and finally got around to posting links to these in one place on “the popular series” page here. Hope you find this helpful. Here’s the run down…

The Civil War as Second American RevolutionLincoln

     Cogitating on Abraham Lincoln as “Revolutionary”
     The Civil War as Revolution – Part I
     The Civil War as Revolution – Part II
     The Revolutionaries of the American Civil War

Exploring Causes of the Civil War

     Antebellum America
     The Antebellum South
     The Antebellum North
     The Rise of Sectional Disputes
     The Contribution of Constitutional Ambiguity
     Political Discord, Slavery, and the Fight for Political Control
     The Influence of the Individual
     The Debate Over the War’s Inevitability

The Experience of Soldiers

     The Weapons They Carried
     Why Men Fought in the Civil War
     On Lice, Disease and Quinine
     Death and Injury on the Battlefield – Part I
     Death and Injury on the Battlefield – Part II

Say wha..?

I have to chuckle now and then at where some of my posts end up out there in the blogosphere. My book review on Russel Nye’s biography of historian George Bancroft (here), was posted today on……

Drum roll….. 

Sci Fi Book Review

I haven’t quite figured out whether this is a legitimate site but I suspect not. It seems to be one of those post “aggregators” that pull in other people’s blog posts under a provocative title. At least it’s not in the adult category. My rail post (this one) went that direction.

I’d be interested to know from some of you long-time bloggers if this sort of thing just comes with the territory.

Back to Breisach…  Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, Third Edition