Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New American History: 200 Years Ago

Major anniversaries are often the occasion of new historical research and publications. Here are two new titles on this the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. The War of 1812 is often thought of as the “forgotten war” of American history, so much so that some people have trouble remembering in what year it occurred. Why it is not much remembered may have something to do with the often expressed belief that it was an unnecessary conflict, that it seems not to be a war we necessarily “won,” and that no country likes to remember a conflict in which their capitol was burnt to the ground.

Each of these new books has its own particular set of virtues. 1812: The Navy’s War by George C. Daughan is a book that brings a history of the far-flung naval battles of the war together in a comprehensive and exciting narrative. It should be of particular appeal to those interested in the history of the U.S. Navy, for the War of 1812 was a conflict that marked the creditable birth of the U.S. Navy, one in which the strategic importance of a strong Navy became manifest to the young nation.

The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies, by Alan Taylor, also focuses on a particular theater of the conflict. This book indeed covers new ground and represents original scholarship, but like the previous book, it remains an eminently readable narrative. Taylor is known for his prodigious research, and is a former winner of the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes for history (William Cooper’s Town). He looks at the war as it was waged in the geographical area situated along Lakes Erie and Ontario. This was a region settled by former British loyalists, American immigrants, Irish immigrants who had settled on both sides of the border, and various Native American tribes. Many Americans considered it up for grabs, and with some who had urged the country to war with Britain, British Canada was an object of their hunger for the acquisition of additional U.S. territory. The conflicting loyalties and ambitions of populations that had settled the border regions of Canada and the United States made this an important theater of the conflict of the War of 1812 and gave it the character of a civil war for control of the North American continent. Taylor contends that the negotiated settlement that ended the war between Britain and the United States came at the expense of Canadians and Native Americans.

Surely other new titles will follow this year on the War of 1812, a war that, as one reviewer has noted, we are coming to understand as a “minor” war that had major consequences.

1 comment:

Repeating History said...

It is good to know that war is not totally forgotten. I think the war also minimizes it in history. "1812" implies that it was a very short war and not the multi-year conflict that it was. Maybe we should start calling it the war of 1812-1815, it doesn't seem to roll off the tongue as well.