1776: The World Turned Upside Down
America’s first year
By Steven Martinovich
Editor’s note: This review is based on the first three months of the serialized series 1776: The World Turned Upside Down
Some of the best YouTube contributors in recent years have taken a serial approach to a massive story – perhaps most notably channels like The Great War which has been exploring the First World War since August 2014 and will wrap up this coming November. It allows someone to learn about an expansive event in bite-sized chunks and learn at their own speed. In many ways it harkens back to the 18th and 19th centuries when magazines frequently published novels and books as serials for their readers before they were turned into standalone books.
It is appropriate perhaps that The Associated Press decided to launch their exploration of America in 1776 as a monthly serial published by Serial Box, a web site specializing in serialized content, in both written and audio form. An intensive look at each month during that formative and harrowing year of the nation’s fiery birth is chronicled in 1776: The World Turned Upside Down, available on both Serial Box and Apple’s App Store. It is an interesting experiment by The Associated Press although it is not without some issues.
Not surprisingly 1776 opens in January 1776 with an America hardly unified behind independence – indeed many revolutionaries were still fond of King George III, a military that is disorganized to say the least, British authorities who seem to swing from overconfidence to a wariness about the real capabilities of their opponents, and both sides without the resources they need to fight a war. The author(s) relate the considerable difficulties each side faced – before the establishment of the Continental Army the Americans essentially fielded irregulars who showed up irregularly while the British had a supply and reinforcement chain that stretched across the Atlantic Ocean. The British regulars were well-trained with experienced commanders but faced an opponent that knew each stone and stream they would be fighting for.
1776, however, does not simply relate the big picture, it does take the time to also drill down to the individual – the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers who fought the war for America – so we can appreciate the toll it took on the average man and woman. The titans of the war, your Washingtons, Adams, Burgoynes and Gages, are also explored with occasional intimate moments. Hopefully looking forward the series will explore voices not often heard in histories – including those of women, American Indians and the slaves that also fought and died for something they believed in.
The one quibble about this series is that it does not appear to take advantage of being a serial available in electronic format to provide multimedia or web links for those who wish an even deeper dive into the material. The advance copies provided were in barebones PDF format but the sample of January found on Serial Box shows little difference outside of final layout. While each episode weighs in at about 24 pages – promising an end result of about 250-300 pages for a very reasonable price – and certainly doesn’t skimp on detail, it would have been nice to see links to the research and original documents that informs this account.
That said, it’s a relatively minor quibble and perhaps AP will provide all of this at the end of the run for amateur historians to be able to do their own research. As an introduction to the formative months of the Revolutionary War, 1776: The World Turned Upside Down works quite well in what it aims to do. There have been innumerable efforts which have looked at America’s first war, indeed even ones that have only looked at 1776 itself, so while 1776 can’t be accused of doing anything completely original, it can be lauded for doing it in an easily accessible and very entertaining manner. Perhaps gift subscriptions can be provided to America’s colleges and universities so some students protesting what America is can learn what the Founding Fathers were actually fighting for.
More information on 1776: The World Turned Upside Down can be found here.
Steven Martinovich is the founder and editor of Enter Stage Right.