Monday, January 31, 2011

And now for a brief musical interlude

I just lost four hours of work --at least-- to a careless cut and paste. And I feel like...

Yeah. That. Also, mad. I am very frustrated right now. I really wanted to post something useful and interesting here today, but I have a book review to write for H-Net, and work soon. And I'm way too angry at myself to reconstruct it.

So. Uhm. Did you know that Google has the first volume of Vault and Pelet,Mémoires militaires relatifs à la succession d'Espagne sous Louis XIV digitised? But it doesn't have the supplementary atlas. If you have access to that atlas at your library, you should go look at it. It's cool. If you were thinking that you wanted to digitise a massive, elephant folio at some point in the near future, that would be a good one to do.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fall of France, 9: Manpower, Part 3

Needless to say, I spent so much time talking about the manpower breakdowns in the British army because I think that they're centrally important. And, obviously, the outlines of the direct story are by now blindingly clear. The artillery, ordnance and former RE types staffing the United Kingdom's AA defences in May 1940 were not in France at the same time. It only stands to reason! Had they been reallocated to the needs of the Commonwealth expeditionary forces (once again, the Canadian can't forget that 1st Canadian Division should have been in the line), France might not have fallen in the first place.

But there are some pleasures, and perhaps some insights, in going at this the long way round.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Flatness and Walls: The Fall of Rome, III

Cities have walls. Romance says that they are for defence. A careful study, or lived experience, suggests that they have other purposes as well. The doyens of early modern urban history have said as much, and I've had the pleasure of sitting in Christopher Friedrich's seminar and having it drilled in to me. Walls constitute community; make statements about inclusion and exclusion; and serve very practical financial considerations by providing a convenient place to levy tariffs. (That last thought, while we're talking about intellectual lineages, probably comes from half-remembered readings (here? Or is this just a good book to read?) and discussions directed by Robert Kubicek, Janis Langins, and Bert Hall.) Walls also contain all-too-human life. Without a wall, what's to prevent a person from escaping, as well as their debts, their very identity, and come back with a new one that profits them more, and you less?

So three issues that don't always seem to come together: money, the fussiness of intellectual lineages, the age-old human impulse to run for the hills, to "live off the grid," so quiet and low that they can't find you. And two overwhelming facts: first, in the course of the third century --perhaps in an intense burst of activity lasting no more than 80 years beginning in 200AD-- Roman cities throughout the Empire were given walls, a local imperative, locally financed, probably in part locally motivated. Second, beginning at some point in the fifth century, conventionally after 410AD (even though we are no longer even completely certain that this is when Roman Britain was "abandoned," for which Wikipedia says see this) the cities were, it seems according to some enigmatic archaeological evidence, all but abandoned. At the same time, we stop finding pottery in deposit layers in the Roman countryside.

Two crazy things that happened? Or one thing that follows on another?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Was There An Economic Boom in the Third/Fourth Century? The Fall of Rome, II

In 1976, American "public intellectual and strategic analyst" Edward Luttwak published the very well-received Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, which for a generation reigned supreme as a treatment of the operating logic of the Roman Empire. Then a minor critique emerged. The Roman Empire had no grand strategy to be described. Whatever one thinks of the merit of the Luttwak thesis or Benjamin Isaac's critique (which seems to answer in part to the study I was casting around for last time arguing that the Roman strategic posture in the far east was perpetual readiness to fall upon the Persians), the rhetorical turn is familiar. From at least the time of Moses Finley, people have responded to questions about the health of the Roman economy by replying that there was no such thing, at least as we understand it.

That last is an argument from a Marxist direction, and I'm a little tired of it --have been since I encountered Michael Postan (not actually a Marxist, just the author of some books that in my mind go wide of the mark), driven by the provocations of Robert Brenner, arguing that medieval farmers (sorry for the anachronistic terminology but peasants, tenants, landlords --we've got to lump them together somehow, right?) could not conceive of, could not practically, and therefore did implement "improvements." It's just such a weird argument. Seriously? Did no-one build a fence or dig a ditch before "Turnip" Townshend had his big idea? Wherever we're going with this argument, and it is an interesting argument from a number of perspectives, it needs to go somewhere else. (My  bet? A synthesis of this, this, this, and this that I'm not prepared to present to the world.)

All that said, there is a much more concrete reason to say that the Roman Empire wasn't an economy. We have an alternative: a "world-system." It seems bizarre to consider Wallerstein's world system as applying to a single political entity --but a unitary political entity does not have to imply a unitary economy! Generally we get to the notion of "a Roman economy" on the basis of the obvious fact that the entire empire was united by a common currency and taxation.

But are we thinking about money correctly? The Early Modernist in me says that we aren't.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Horses Eat People: A Fall of Rome, I

So I have suggested that I have a theory about the fall of Rome. And that I am not entirely comfortable sharing it. There are, after all, a lot of theories about the fall of Rome, and their most characteristic common feature is the Zeitgeist. The Fall of Rome. It's all about me. Throw in a military historian (historian of technology) exercising their customary, dubious license to inquire into fields well beyond their technical competence, and you get a troubling project on two fronts.

Still, I have my schtick, the "substructural history of strategy," and some actual evidence from the era that suggests itself for reinterpretation in the light of the failure of the financial markets in 2008..

So the grand explanation is this: Mounted warriors replaced foot soldiers at the "right of the line." The Seventeenth Century rolls over, cocks an eye, then goes back to sleep.

But wait!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fall of France, 9: Manpower, Part 2

Last time I looked at the British army at rest. Deeply, deeply at rest, except for Iraq, with the pension line for WWI veterans still a huge proportion of total spending (fortunately for operations, this money was lent to the Army Estimates).
Now it is time to look at an army hurtling towards war, as reflected in the 1939/40 Army Estimates. These were the Estimates prepared from briefings provided to the Cabinet before the Christmas break, debated in the winter of 1939, and formally adopted on 1 April, 1939. (That this is the beginning of the British public fiscal year is, in turn, the reason why the RAF, like every other British government organisation, has its birthday on April Fool's, not to let facts get in the way of hilarious jokes by anti-air power zealots, or anything.)

So what do they have to say for themselves?