New Perspectives on the American Revolution

In an address to the Organization of American Historians some time ago, OAH President James Oliver Horton argued that if the promise of America is to be fulfilled, its people must understand its history. He called for a new generation of historians to place America in its rightful context, a global context – to portray U.S. history not as a story separated from the rest of the world, but as part of a world narrative.

This story – the story of the American Revolution – is like that. Beneath the popular tales of the American Revolution lies a larger and more complex narrative – a global narrative. I am not smart enough to tell it, but I am happy to suggest it in this little adventure.

At the same time the Swamp Fox was raiding Cornwallis in the Carolina lowlands, French and British forces fought five naval battles off the coast of India. Concurrent to the Colonials crossing the Delaware to surprise Von Donop, the two largest German states, Austria and Prussia, established an “enlightened absolutism” and fought to push one another out of the German Federation.  Between Pontiac’s Rebellion and Washington’s inauguration, the population of China ballooned to 300 million with the introduction of potatoes and peanuts from America, while the Emperor’s eldest son perpetuated some of the worst corruption in the history of the Qing Dynasty.    

The American Revolution was fought in the world. All of this played a part. 

One view or theory connecting these global forces is the coming of the modern age: that the industrial revolution was bringing an economic end to the slave trade, and the beginning of full rights for all. In books like Empire and Colossus, one of my favorite historians, Niall Ferguson, paints the picture of a world of rising empires and falling cultures, a world convulsed by global economic forces, and social forces set into motion by the engines of modern production. 

The statement in my story by Catherine the Great’s apprentice, Sheyndil, regarding botany and the American Revolution, represents a school of thought suggested by Andrea Wulf in her outstanding 2011 book, Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation. One of the many ideas she brings into her book is that “it’s impossible to understand the making of America without looking at the founding fathers as farmers and gardeners.”

This botany-and-empire connection is given a fuller expression by a character named Saul Dubinsky, who appears in a subsequent adventure. Dubinsky becomes caretaker of the Navigator archives and their unique contents, and it is he who narrativizes several of the Society adventures.

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In movies, there can be such a thing as “the male gaze.” This is when the camera sees things as males see them. A neutral camera would not act that way. There may be such a thing as a national gaze, narratives in which a nation looks at a universe that is centered around that particular unit of civilization. 

Historian Larrie D Ferreiro thinks a little bit of this may have crept into our telling of our own history, particularly the story of the American Revolution. We tend to make ourselves the hero of what is a complex, sprawling story.  It suits us to downplay or neglect to mention critical help we received from Europe. A neutral, or more universal version might be different. 

“The involvement of other nations in the conflict was largely erased from the historical record,” Ferreiro writes. This is not so much a studied effort as it is a natural tendency to want to establish our own cultural identity – American exceptionalism.


We tend to make ourselves the heroes of what is a complex, sprawling story.  


Others make the same point. “If there is one big meta-trend within history, it is this turn toward the global,” says Sven Beckert, Laird Bell Professor of American History at Harvard University. “History looks very different if you don’t take a particular nation-state as the starting point of all your investigations.”

As new ideas of the Enlightenment swept across the world, the American rebels joined people of many nations who were looking for a new relationship to empire. We now connect the Boston Tea Party to the Sepoy Rebellion in India as well as to the Irish Rebellion, the Latin American wars of independence, and the Decembrist revolt in Russia.  

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The ambitious ‘Colonials’ epic includes adventures on four continents, including an extended sequence in China’s Grand Canal. Our company of teen protagonists encounters the Navigators, a shadowy group whose presence connects the stories on a vast worldwide timeline. 

The combination of rich ideas, global historical settings, action-and-intrigue adventures, elements of empire and striking artwork makes this a most unusual literary property.

‘Rise and Fall of Empire’ 

This is historical fiction with a cause: the author sets out to depict the rise and fall of empires through the perspective of the working men and women who built them. This commitment to show the people’s history as well as ‘history from above’ follows in the tradition of historians like Howard Zinn and Stephen Ambrose.