As Jill Lepore has written, “acts of war generate acts of narration.” In particular, “wounds and words—injuries and their interpretation—cannot be separated.” The American Revolutionary War—a civil war in the British Empire—was on one level waged as a polemical and moral war. Along with the increasing sophistication of the codes of war, rhetorical arenas had emerged on both sides of the Atlantic in which the boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate violence were negotiated. It mattered deeply how each side conducted the war—what ways and means of war each employed, and which codes of war each observed or failed to observe. It also mattered what narratives each could persuasively tell about their own and their opponents’ conduct. This paper will focus on several incidents in the American Revolutionary War to explore aspects of the relations between war, the state and media. By out-Europeanizing the British, the American Patriots sought to gain and retain the moral high ground.
Holger Hoock, MA (Freiburg i.Br.), D.Phil. (Oxford), FRHistS, is the J. Carroll Amundson Professor of British History at the University of Pittsburgh. He previously taught at the Universities of Cambridge and Liverpool, where he also directed the interdisciplinary research center, Eighteenth-Century Worlds. Hoock has held Fellowships at, among others, the Library of Congress, New York Public Library, Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Institute of Advanced Study, Konstanz, the Huntington, the Library Company of Philadelphia. His major publications include The King’s Artists: The Royal Academy of Arts and the Politics of British Culture, 1760-1840 (Oxford, 2003; pb. 2005) and Empires of the Imagination: Politics, War, and the Arts in the British World, 1750-1850 (London, 2010). He is currently writing a history of the practices and representations of violence in the American Revolutionary War.