Annual Booklist 2017-2018 : John C. Mitcham

Dr Mitcham is Assistant Professor of History, Duquesne University (Pittsburgh, USA), author of Race and Imperial Defence in the British World, 1870-1914 (Cambridge University Press, 2016), shortlisted for the 2016 SAHR Templer Medal.

Piers Mackesy, The War for America, 1775-1783 (Harvard University Press, 1964). I first encountered this book in graduate school, and as an American studying British Military History, it completely changed the way that I understood the revolution. Mackesy’s sweeping analysis places the “American War” within the broader global struggle against France and Spain, and provides a comprehensive understanding of the sequence of events that led to the surrender at Yorktown. This is an old classic that I still pick up and read every few years.

Thomas Packenham, The Boer War (Random House, 1979), This richly documented and highly readable book is still one of the most important studies of the South African War. Packenham’s analysis balances military, diplomatic, and political themes with fantastic narrative of the colorful cast of characters that flocked to the veldt in 1899. Mindful of the imperial nature of this conflict, he also dedicates attention to contributions by Canadian, Australian, and New Zealander contingents. This is a delightful book useful to professional scholars and general readers alike.

Heather Streets, Martial Races: The Military, Race and Masculinity in British Imperial Culture, 1857-1914 (Manchester University, 2010)
I often remind my graduate students that military historians most venture out of our comfort zones in order to understand our subjects. Martial Races demonstrates how studies of race and gender help us to situate the study of the armed forces in a broader context. Street’s examination of how British society viewed Highlander, Gurkha, and Sikh regiments, particularly after the 1857 Mutiny, provides a nuanced socio-cultural analysis of the British and Indian armies in the Victorian era. This should be required reading of any serious scholar of British Military History.

Niall Barr, Pendulum of War: The Three Battles of El Alamein (Overlook Press, 2006). Barr’s excellent study of El Alamein is a prime example of a solid campaign study. It’s well-researched and highly readable, and includes an analysis of military leadership from generals such as Rommel, Auchinleck, and Montgomery. But more importantly, it shows how ultimate success in the Western Desert was the result of institutional knowledge acquired over time by the Commonwealth divisions of the Eighth Army.

As for a book that SHOULD be written, it would have to be a study of the integration of Allied “exile armies” within the British/Dominion command structures during the Second World War. These ranged from large formations (the Polish II Corps) to small units (the Dutch “Princess Irene Brigade”), but they all posed enormous diplomatic, linguistic, and logistical challenges. In the process, British and Allied general staffs acquired invaluable experience in multinational operations, laying the groundwork for NATO and other postwar collective security organizations. To the aspiring doctoral student, this kind of project will not be an easy endeavor. A successful study will need to go beyond the British perspective to include those of the Polish, Free French, Norwegian, Dutch, Greek, Czech, and other nationalities involved.