[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-FedHist]: Offenburger on Williams, 'Custer and the Sioux, Durnford and the Zulus: Parallels in the American and British Defeats at the Little Bighorn and Isandlwana'
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From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
Date: Thu, Jul 11, 2019 at 8:16 PM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-FedHist]: Offenburger on Williams, 'Custer and the
Sioux, Durnford and the Zulus: Parallels in the American and British
Defeats at the Little Bighorn and Isandlwana'
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Cc: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.org>
Paul Williams. Custer and the Sioux, Durnford and the Zulus:
Parallels in the American and British Defeats at the Little Bighorn
and Isandlwana. Jefferson McFarland, 2015. 220 pp. $39.95
(paper), ISBN 978-0-7864-9794-2.
Reviewed by Andrew Offenburger (Miami University of Ohio)
Published on H-FedHist (July, 2019)
Commissioned by Caryn E. Neumann
Offenburger on Williams, _Custer and the Sioux, Durnford and the
Zulus: Parallels in the American and British Defeats at the Little
Bighorn and Isandlwana_
The defeat of General George Custer and US forces at Little Bighorn
(1876) and that of Major Anthony Durnford and the British at
Isandlwana (1879) are tantalizing events for scholars of comparative
history. Separated by only three years and popularly remembered
through a "last stand" interpretive framework, these events offer
clear controls and variables to scholars interested in exploring the
similarities and differences of US and British empire in the latter
James Gump first picked up this comparison for his _The Dust Rose
Like Smoke: The Subjugation of the Zulu and the Sioux_ (1994), a
study that has shaped scholars' thinking on comparative frontier
history ever since. More on this in a moment. Paul Williams's book,
published by McFarland & Company, narrates the emergence,
engagement, and aftermath of these two battles along parallel
trajectories, switching from one to the other within chapters. The
most substantive connection examines the lives and careers of Custer
and Durnford. The remaining links are fleeting similes in
introductory clauses. For example, Williams writes that the Sioux,
"like the Zulu, represented a constant military threat to a nation
determined upon expansion" (p. 22). More often, though, the two cases
are simply separated by a line of three asterisks. At its core, this
is a book of parallel narration, not one of analysis.
The only interpretive work is in the prologue, a brief, generalized
narrative, four paragraphs long, crafted to describe either military
defeat. This sets up the twelve-chapter structure meant to showcase
the historical similarities ("The Land Is Ours," "Deception and
Deceit," "The Impossible Ultimatum," "The Three-Column Plan," "The
Last Man, the Last Bullet," and, among others, "So Who Was to
Blame?"). Beyond this gesture and the chapter structure, all
interpretation is left to the reader. There is no conclusion to wrap
up themes, neither resonances nor dissonances.
This book therefore misses the whole purpose of comparative history
and why readers would buy such a study in the first place. Without
it, we would do better to consult individual books on each setting,
many of which Williams cites. As a result, this book lacks meaningful
insights offered by Gump in his well-known study of the exact same
topic; Gump's chapter on "Collaborators of a Kind," for example,
delves into how arbiters like Red Cloud and Cetshwayo, in their own
contexts, "served as major mediators" working with others who sought
"a peaceful transition to political stability and economic
prosperity" (quoted, p. 55).
Bizarrely, Williams does not address Gump's scholarship in any
meaningful way. One wonders how such a specialized
publication--addressing the exact same comparison--can conscionably
ignore a groundbreaking predecessor. The author does _cite _Gump's
work, including it in 4 of 414 endnotes: once for the quotation in
this review's third paragraph, once for military details (pp.
118-19), once for a poem on Isandlwana (p. 173), and once to quote
Walt Whitman's poem on Custer's death and the "fatal environment" (p.
148, also the title of Richard Slotkin's acclaimed book, which
analyzes the memory of Little Bighorn in detail).
Yet, considering how this book replicates such a unique approach to
the past, one would expect a substantial portion of text--part of a
chapter, a section of the introduction, or even a paragraph or two in
the main text--to engage Gump's scholarship. It is as if one were
writing about the Great Lakes region and Native American history as a
"middle ground" without discussing Richard White (but citing him).
Such an oversight might be excusable in a book that had not gone
through the peer-review process; in fact, it appears that Williams
had this book published originally as _Little Bighorn &
Isandlwana: Kindred Fights, Kindred Follies_ in 2007 by
"Phantascope," an unknown entity using an Amazon-subsidiary
print-on-demand service. But the absence of Gump's _The Dust Rose
Like Smoke_, except for its citing in four endnotes, does make one
wonder how this book was approved by McFarland, a press that touts
itself as a publisher of academic nonfiction. This, for academic
historians at least, is a deal-breaker. Scholars are better off
sticking with Gump's handling of the comparison.
Citation: Andrew Offenburger. Review of Williams, Paul, _Custer and
the Sioux, Durnford and the Zulus: Parallels in the American and
British Defeats at the Little Bighorn and Isandlwana_. H-FedHist,
H-Net Reviews. July, 2019.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
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