Civil wars fracture political systems and rend societies, often leaving deep scars and traumatic memories that haunt generations.
Yet civil wars often continue to be understood primarily through the lens of national historiographies that focus on nation-states and the history of state development. National histories have not escaped state formation processes, ethnic politics, and the forces of nationalism.
The English Civil War (1642-1651), the American Civil War (1861-1865), and the Russian Civil War (1918-1922), and the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) have each inspired massive historiographies in which the trauma of civil war is normally treated as a formational experience in the life history of a single nation-state. The history of civil warfare thus shapes historical memory and reifies nation-states as objects of distinct and isolated national histories.
I have taught courses on civil conflict, civil warfare, religious violence, and wars of religion, and I am always surprised how few comparative studies of civil violence are available. There are numerous comparative studies of bread riots, peasant revolts, religious riots, terrorist attacks, revolutions, and genocides across the fields of history, anthropology, political science, sociology, and violence studies. Curiously, comparative studies of civil warfare remain relatively rare.
David Armitage’s Civil Wars: A History in Ideas (2018) attempts to construct such a comparative history of civil warfare.
I am pleased that my book review of Armitage’s Civil Wars has recently been published in The Journal of Modern History.
Brian Sandberg, “David Armitage, Civil Wars: A History in Ideas,” The Journal of Modern History 92, no. 2 (June 2020): 390-391.