Book Talk: The Gun, the Ship, and the Pen: Warfare, Constitutions, and the Making of the Modern World
"If there were a Nobel Prize in History, Colley would be my nominee… An incandescent, paradigm-shifting new book."—Jill Lepore, The New Yorker
A work of extraordinary range and striking originality, The Gun, the Ship, and the Pen traces the global history of written constitutions from the 1750s to the twentieth century, modifying accepted narratives and uncovering the close connections between the making of constitutions and the making of war. In the process, Linda Colley both reappraises famous constitutions and recovers those that have been marginalized but were central to the rise of a modern world.
Written constitutions are usually examined in relation to individual states, but Colley focuses on how they crossed boundaries, spreading into six continents by 1918 and aiding the rise of empires as well as nations. She illuminates their place not simply in law and politics but also in wider cultural histories, and their intimate connections with print, literary creativity, and the rise of the novel. Colley shows how—while advancing epic revolutions and enfranchising white males—constitutions frequently served over the long nineteenth century to marginalize indigenous people, exclude women and people of color, and expropriate land. Simultaneously, though, she investigates how these devices were adapted by peoples and activists outside the West seeking to resist European and American power.
Professor of history at Princeton, Linda Colley is the author of books including Britons, winner of the Wolfson Prize, and The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh, a New York Times “Top 10” Book-of-the-Year. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
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