Skip to main content

3 New Books Unlock the History of Different Cultures, Overlooked Experiences

Understanding our history is important. It helps us discover who we were, who we are, and what we will become. By examining the past, we can provide context for our next journey. 

Three professors from the Department of History have published edited new collections that look beyond the surface of time, place and circumstance, sharing a new authenticity on their subjects. From the women who helped shape Appalachia, to new perspectives of the global effects of Napoleon’s military might, to the varied global powers and their attempts to colonize Africa. 

These new publications shed an important light, uncovering previously hidden voices and important consequences that may have never been considered before. 

Revisiting Napoleon's Continental System
Katherine Aaslestad

Katherine Aaslestad

Life Beyond the Battlefield

Professor Katherine Aaslestad led an international team of historians on a study of economic warfare during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. 

The result — a collection of essays offering new perspectives on the consequences of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s European conquest. 

“Revisiting Napoleon’s Continental System: Local, Regional and European Experiences,” edited by Aaslestad, explores the fate of Europeans as they faced transformative social and economic challenges. 

Instead of looking at Napoleonic expansion purely as a military operation, the book examines how Napoleonic conflict spread to the high seas, harbors and marketplaces across Europe and the Atlantic through economic warfare. 

“Studying how societies confronted the constant experience of war clarifies the total effect of war — its political, social and economic consequences,” Aaselstad said. “These transnational and regional case studies force us to think about war differently, beyond patriotic clichés. The book underscores the complexity as well as the human and social cost of war.” 

Regional and urban case studies offer a more complete understanding of the significance of economic warfare during the Napoleonic era, and explore the experiences and consequences of the conflict through several key themes: a re-evaluation of the historiography of the Continental System; the uneven power triangle of the French, British and neutral powers; and the strategies of merchants and smugglers to adapt to, or circumvent, the system. The essays highlight the vulnerability and ingenuity of Europeans confronting war as civilians at home, in the marketplace and in the harbors. 

By looking away from the battlefield, new perspectives are possible. 

“I think we’re giving a voice back to people whose stories had been subsumed by big military battles and generals,” Aaslestad said. “We’re doing to these European civilians or individuals what historians do naturally now for modern wars. You would never just study World War I or World War II or even the Cold War solely on a military level. Historians need to study how civilians experienced conflict on the home front too.” 

The collection emerged from a 2011 international conference that Aaslestad co-organized in Amsterdam at the International Institute of Social History, where more than 30 scholars from nine countries convened to present their research on the “Napoleonic Continental System: Local, European and Global Experiences and Consequences.” Aaslestad selected 13 papers from the conference publication, with two others solicited for the collection. 

Aaslestad is a specialist on 19th century Germany who has published nearly 20 articles on the Napoleonic era and a book, “Place and Politics.” She co-edited the book with Johan Joor, an expert of Dutch history and honorary fellow of the International Institute of Social History at Amsterdam. 

Developing Africa cover
Joseph Hodge

Joseph Hodge

Africa’s Economic Promise

While much of the world continues to shake off the lingering effects of the Great Recession, one continent has been cited by the World Bank as the potential site for the next economic boom: Africa. 

How it got there is a complicated story of an international mix of imperial endeavors to develop the continent and exploit its wealth. “Developing Africa: Concepts and Practices in Twentieth-Century Colonialism” examines the similarities between British, French and Portuguese attempts to transform and reap the benefits of the land. 

Joseph Hodge, chair of the Department of History, said the book offers a unique examination of the period, with authors from Africa, Europe and North America in multiple disciplines each providing a different context. 

“Over the past 20 years or so, individuals have been looking at 20th century Colonial Africa and looking at the impact of European powers and in terms of developing — or under-developing, however you look at it — the continent,” Hodge said. “This is an attempt to try and do a broad comparative synthesis – What do we know now, after 20 years as scholars studying this topic? What sort of conclusions can we come to?” 

Much of the focus of the histories of development assembled in the book is on the final decades of colonial rule in Africa, especially the period from the 1920s onward. The book investigates a range of contexts, from agriculture to mass media. 

The book is a transatlantic project that emerged from the Developing Africa conference in 2011 in Vienna. Several of the chapters were originally presented during the three-day conference, with more contributions sought after. 

While much of the book’s focus is on British colonization, several chapters study French and Portuguese colonial development and draw comparisons between British and French experiences. 

Hodge believes this to be one of the first comparative texts on the subject, utilizing historians, anthropologists, literary studies and linguistics specialists to provide context to the development of Africa. One contributor uses popular novels at the time providing commentary through subtext. 

“Developing Africa: Concepts and Practices in Twentieth-Century Colonialism” is published by Manchester University Press. 

Women of the Mountain South cover
Connie Park Rice

Connie Park Rice

Giving Voice to Appalachian Women

Scholars of southern Appalachia have typically centered their research on the contributions and experiences of men, particularly white men. But a new collection of essays, co-edited by Connie Park Rice, is giving a voice to the different women who have proudly called the mountains their home. 

In “Women of the Mountain South: Identity, Work, and Activism,” Rice documents the experiences and histories of women who helped to shape Appalachia. Many available texts, she said, either focus on women as a homogenous whole, or completely ignore the role of women altogether. 

“In Appalachia, the historical emphasis is often on the coal industry — the industrialization of the region, the extraction process and the industry itself, or the conflict between labor and coal operators,” Rice said. “Women have been marginalized in a lot of cases.” 

Rice co-edited the book with Maria Tedesco, director of the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program at East Tennessee State University. Together, they solicited essays and combed through archives for materials that illustrate the diversity of Appalachian women. 

The new book explores the experiences and contributions of Appalachian women across time and place, the realities and the stereotypes that have defined them, and the battles they have chosen or have been forced to fight. It also documents the diversity of mountain women, black and white, urban and rural, rich and poor, Hispanic, Muslim and gay. 

“There is no ‘Appalachian woman,’ but many Appalachian women,” Rice said. “Just like the region, the women and their experiences are different, yet they all played a role in shaping the history of Appalachia.” 

That influence has been felt since the frontier days, when gender roles were often blurred, to the present day in the battle against mountaintop removal, Rice said. 

“So many times it’s women’s actions that have shaped the social, political and economic structure of Appalachia, even though they’ve been left out (of the discussion),” Rice said. 

Rice is the assistant editor of West Virginia History: A Journal of Regional Studies and a former member of the Governor’s West Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission. 

“Women of the Mountain South” will be released through Ohio University Press in March 2015. 

Good Reads Archive

3 New Books Unlock the History of Different Cultures, Overlooked Experiences

In their new books, history professors introduce readers to women who helped shape Appalachia, new perspectives of the global effects of Napoleon's military might, and the attempts by varied global powers to colonize Africa.

Continue Reading