Great Courses: War And World History: Part III, taught by Professor Jonathan P. Roth
I must admit that it was pleasing to come to my favorite area of military history and to see it done in a thoughtful manner even if not the usual strategy and tactics focus that one usually gets when it comes to military history. There are times, though, when it is good to get a broader understanding of conflict than the usually narrowly focused ones that one typically reads and this particular course is good at least for providing as broad a context as one can imagine within the confines of conflict on this planet, and until and unless galactic military histories are written we will have to be content with approaches that look at comparisons across regions and cultures and over the long duration of human history. And certainly this series of lectures is an easy one to appreciate, not least because it talks about a deeply interesting part of military history in the period between the Renaissance of the 15th century and the 19th century, all of which included a great deal of military conflict on both land and sea, as well as some subtle transformations of the logistics of war.
The twelve lectures of this particular part of the course go about as one would expect given what has happened so far. We begin with a look at the period of the Renaissance and the purported military revolution established by the House of Orange in the course of their revolt against the Spaniards (25). After this we look at the conquest of the Americas and the establishment of colonies by the rising Western European powers (26). The author then shifts his attention to the gunpowder empires that started during the same time like the Ottoman, Russian, and Safavid Empires of the Eurasian core (27). The author spends an entire lecture talking about more holy wars like the wars of religion within Europe as well as various wars between the European nations and Ottoman Empires and between Shia Iran and Sunni Turkey (28). The author spends an entire lecture on the rise of the regiment and what it meant (29) as well as a lecture on the wooden world of naval warfare during the period (30) before moving on to the global war among European nations to control trade (31) and the relationship between warfare and the nation-state that was rising in many areas (32), though leading to the destruction of some states like Poland-Lithuania). The lectures then end with two contrasting sets, namely war and the making of the Americas (leading to the rise of the United States and the independence of the Spanish and Portuguese colonies) (33) and the unmaking of Africa and Asia (34) and the industrialization (35) and nationalization (36) of war.
There are at least some areas where the author does a great job in discussing a complex period of world history. At least some of the skill of these particular lectures comes in the way that the instructor can draw upon a great many examples and some nuanced discussions as a way of pointing out the tensions between the rise of companies that had private military forces of considerable influence with the way that those companies were themselves often agents of a national government that was using them, like national banks, as a way of financing for war without leading to national bankruptcy and embarrassment. A great many military advancements during the period were not chosen because they came with unacceptable political and economic changes to society, and so it is that the author manages to figure out some important (and non-racist) insights as to the importance of culture in the adoption of technology and into the consequences that technology has in the preservation of elites. The author also does a great job at demonstrating the way that elites can be co-opted for national service in ways that preserve their own elite status but that transfer their behavior into acceptable channels that do not weaken the government as a whole, which is by no means always successfully managed.