Monday, February 10, 2014

The American Revolution Through British Eyes

I just learned about this book through Don Hagist's review at The Journal of the American Revolution.  As someone who works on the American Revolution, I would love to have this two-volume documentary collection, edited by James Barnes and Patience Barnes, in my library, but I can't afford the $250.00 price tag.  (Maybe Kent State will send me a copy in exchange for a review on the blog!)  Here is a taste of Hagist's review:

The material is arranged chronologically within sections focused on the major phases of the war. The documents chosen span the range of influence from diplomatic correspondence from the King and government officials, to military correspondence from senior generals to junior regimental officers. Through the words of participants, we can follow the arc of the war, from institution of policies and reactions to behavior of the American colonists, through initial optimism that the rebellion could be quelled and confidence that it was localized and fomented by a minority, to dismay at the tenacity of the rebels and the unexpectedly low level of loyalist support. Particularly welcome is the inclusion of material concerning the navy as well as the army, resulting in a balanced look at the operational concerns of conducting a largely coastal war on the opposite side of an ocean from the sources of policy, strategy, finance and supply.

The editors made the expeditious but questionable choice of drawing largely from published sources. This is a bit disappointing for those who already have a substantial library of British primary source material; for those who have already researched this perspective on the war, the two substantial volumes of The American Revolution through British Eyes might provide little new material. The arrangement of the material, however, is liable to be easier to use than the books from which they are compiled, making this new collection valuable even though not novel.

The documents presented are drawn heavily from the famous compilation Documents of the American Revolution, 1770-1783 by K. G. Davies, and some other widely-available published collections. In at least one case, the editors chose to draw from another compilation rather than the published complete manuscript – passages by Captain John Peebles of the 42nd Regiment are drawn from The Spirit of Seventy-Six: The Story of the American Revolution as Told by Participants edited by Henry Steele Commager and. Richard B. Morris, rather than from the more comprehensive John Peebles American War: The Diary of a Scottish Grenadiery 1776-1782 edited by Ira D. Gruber. All are cited properly but introduce the possibility of repeating errors made by previous editors. It also makes it challenging for the reader wishing to verify the transcriptions or other aspects of the original documents, requiring the previous published source to be consulted in order to find the manuscript source. This is better, though, than the practice of “leapfrogging”, that is, consulting the published source but citing the manuscript source.