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In my hands were the papers belonging to a seized ship from 1743. The ship was French and was sailing from Martinique to Brest. Close to home, a British man of war named the Captain appeared over the horizon. A few hours later, the French merchant vessel was boarded and the crew surrendered. The commander of the HMS Captain was Captain John Byng, who promptly took Captain Simon Daragorry and the crew of Le Dauphin de France to Portsmouth, in southern England. Le Dauphin de France and its contents would become in the parlance of eighteenth-century naval warfare
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Here is the presentation paper I gave at the Institute for Advanced Studies, University of Bristol, ‘Rethinking History from Below: Origins, Trajectories, Prospects’, held on 16 June, 2017.


I want you to imagine a riot. I want you to place yourself in the midst of that riot, dead center. What do you see? What’s going down?

Now let me show you one in which there was a sale. The year:1766. The town: Cirencester in Gloucestershire. A crowd numbering about a thousand descended upon the town. They came from (more…)

“One learns best about an ocean by swimming in it,” said a neighbor to me when I was about seven or eight and writing a school report about the Atlantic. Of course, I had no idea then about what he meant, after all the library was chock full of books about the oceans. Why couldn’t one just read about (more…)

A remarkable, and may I add “restricted,” document discovered deep within the archives of the British Library revealed much of the politics that surrounded Admiral John Byng’s court martial as well as the subsequent government inquiry into how the island of Minorca fell to the French in April of 1756. Those two went together. But prior to both, the Newcastle government collapsed: too many (more…)

A question came from the conference audience aimed at Professor Tom Robisheaux. “Would you recommend Ph.D. students to write dissertations using microhistory as methodology?”

“No!” came Tom’s commanding bellow. Something about how the “professionals” of the discipline still do not fully grasp or embrace the (more…)

There are two remarkable volumes in the manuscripts collection at the British Library. The topic covered is the trade and commerce Great Britain exacted in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. A British Consul named Alexander Drummond worked for the Levant Company in the ancient city of Aleppo. From 1747 up until February of 1756, Drummond transcribed and saved those copies of outgoing mail, both official and (more…)

I’ve just over a week until I leave California and return to the archives in London. The four chapters I wrote for my dissertation are simply not enough to produce a serious book: a few chapters too short! There remain four unanswered questions which are:  (more…)

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