The American Revolution Was Global, not American, Says New Y.A. Adventure


A powerful idea in the study of history can be seen in, of all places, a new young adult adventure story.

The Colonials,” by Tom Durwood, follows six young protagonists as they join the war for liberty and equality in a coming-of-age epic. His teen heroes come from China, Turkey, Russia, Germany, France, and the Netherlands. “I wanted to show that the American War of Independence,” says author Durwood, “was not so much an American event as a global event.” In this, he echoes a trend towards a broader view.

More and more, historians agree with this approach. “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.

The Study of History is Disappearing
The Colonials” is one story in a larger collection which Durwood — who edits an open-access history journal, The Journal of Empire Studies — has published. Durwood’s books come out at a time when history of all kinds is disappearing from our schools. While American students’ deficits in math and science and well-publicized, the decline in history literary is often overlooked. A recent National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that a mere 18% of eighth graders were proficient in U.S. History. “We swim in the past as fish do in water,” warns historian Eric Hobsbawm. “We cannot escape from it.”

History provides identity,” argues Jason Steinhauer, Public Historian of the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. “The process of historical inquiry—and what it teaches students along the way—is history’s greatest reward.”

Durwood, who taught at Valley Forge Military College for eight years, points out that the Declaration of Independence was addressed to “mankind.” He hopes his book will help widen the scope of young readers as they learn how national histories are more connected than they are separate.

Contact: Tom Durwood /

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