Our guest this week is James W. Muller, Professor of Political Science at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. Professor Muller has asked us to circulate a paper titled "Churchill at War on the Nile." The paper is a version of a chapter from a forthcoming book and will eventually form the bulk of the introduction to my new edition of Churchill’s early work The River War.
Winston S. Churchill’s early career mixed fighting and writing: on his adventurous path to taking his seat in the House of Commons at twenty-six, he saw action in four wars on three continents and published articles and books about all of them. His greatest early work was a two-volume book, The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, originally published in 1899, describing the rebellion of the Mahdi against Egyptian rule in the Sudan in the first half of the 1880s and Herbert Kitchener’s successful campaign against the Dervish Empire more than a decade later. Churchill was present for the climax of the campaign at Omdurman and the cavalry charge of the 21st Lancers on September 2, 1898.
The River War was severely abridged to make its second edition in 1902 fit into a single volume, and the full version of the book has never been reprinted. I discovered the longer version in the rare books reading room of the British Library in 1989 and have been working since then on a definitive edition of the book, restoring the original text and comparing it with later changes. In the course of this work I have made interesting discoveries about Churchill’s writing and about empire, war, race, and religion in the Sudan. At this scholars’ workshop I look forward to talking about what I have learned.