Contributor Close-up: George Kotlik

JAR contributor George Kotlik and his parents at his graduation from Keuka College. (George Kotlik)

What inspired you to start researching and writing about the American Revolution?

The War for North American Independence has been a fierce passion of mine for as long as I can remember. I recall reading books, while I was an undergraduate, about the American Revolution which excited me. I read the biographies of the authors of these books, the dispensers of knowledge on a topic I was so committed to understanding; they became my heroes. The idea of disseminating knowledge to people about the American Revolution moved me. I decided that I wanted to join the ranks of those who produced information on the Revolution. I would read books and sometimes, within the text, there existed no further elaboration on a topic or story and that left me hungry for more. I told myself, “there must be more to this story than the author is telling us.” Many times, due to a lack of space or a desire not to go down too many rabbit holes, authors prefer to stick to the course of their main arguments. Me, I prefer to go down every rabbit hole and in doing so I uncover information and stories that have been overlooked, overshadowed, and forgotten.

What historians or books have most influenced your work? Why?

Ray Raphael’s A People’s History of the American Revolution really provided the groundwork for my study on the loyalists. His book offers an excellent organized outline of the various groups of people affected by the American Revolution, especially minority groups. Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy’s The Men Who Lost America began my interest in the British military perspective of the American Revolution. His book took me away from narratives that favored the American perspective of the war effort. Shelia L. Skemp’s The Making of a Patriot: Benjamin Franklin at the Cockpit reminds me that at one point most Founding Fathers were ardent Crown supporters. It also reminds me how Britain, for the most part, provided the means for undoing the relationship between the Empire and her North American colonies.

What are your go-to research resources?

Whenever I start researching a topic on the American Revolution I begin with A Companion to the American Revolution, edited by Jack P. Greene and J. R. Pole. For context I use Encyclopedia of the North American Colonies, edited by Jacob Ernest Cooke.

Which of your own JAR articles is your favorite or most rewarding? Why?

My favorite article has been The British Invasion of the Bahamas, 1783. Apart from covering loyalists, a subject I find fascinating, the article reveals a story that is profoundly interesting. The fact that it is rarely mentioned makes it even more valuable. I love the lost, the forgotten, and the underappreciated.

Other than your own contributions, what are some of your favorite JAR articles?

I have especially enjoyed Jason Yonce’s How Magna Carta Influenced the American Revolution, Jim Piecuch’s Patrick Tonyn: Britain’s Most Effective Revolutionary-Era Royal Governor, and John L. Smith Jr.’s India: The Last Battle of the American Revolutionary War.

What books about the American Revolution do you most often recommend?

Books that I recommend cover topics that are often overlooked. I usually recommend Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy’s An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean, Claudio Saunt’s West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776, Larry L. Meyer’s Shadow of a Continent: The Prize That Lay to the West–1776. I always try and remind people that the history of the American Revolution goes beyond the thirteen original colonies. There existed many theatres of the war in Canada, the Caribbean, and in the West that are separate from but related to the happenings within the thirteen rebelling colonies.

What new research/writing projects are you currently working on?

Right now I am revising an essay on the Imperial Crisis. While talking about the anti-British movement before 1775, I have been drawn to radical interpretations of that period that emphasize the insurgent nature of the movement. I am similarly drawing connections between the anti-British movement of the Imperial Crisis and definitions of terrorism (the history of terrorism can be traced far back into history—much farther back than eighteenth century North America) to argue that the anti-British movement during the Imperial Crisis was of a terrorist nature. I do not personally believe this argument, but I feel it is my duty to explore this topic that has, so far, received no attention in scholarship.

Apart from radical interpretations of the American Revolution, I am also working on projects surrounding Florida and the American Revolution. One article I am working on covers the loyalist evacuation of Amelia Island, Florida. Amelia Island was a loyalist safe haven throughout the war. The island boasted a town which was evacuated in the early 1780s. I am also in the early planning stages of a book on Florida and the American Revolution.

Additionally, and in collaboration with The Hessians: The Journal of the Johannes Schwalm Historical Association, I am also working on uncovering what happened to the Hessian prisoners of war after the Battle of Trenton. Little is known of what happened to the Hessian POWs after Trenton and my work with the Hessian Troops in America database (HETRINA) is shedding light on that void of knowledge.

What other hobbies/interests do you enjoy?

I like to read biographies of people I find interesting. People such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Gertrude Bell, Thomas Lawrence, Roy Chapman Andrews, Hiram Bingham, and Theodore Roosevelt have sated my reading interests.

Why is Journal of the American Revolution important to you?

First, the Journal of the American Revolution provides a platform where I can share my work with a wide array of people. Second, the Journal brings together a community of people who are all passionate about the American Revolution. These people are deeply knowledgeable about their subject area and that makes for some really excellent discussions that go beyond popular understandings of the subject. It is refreshing to talk with people who are well-versed in the subjects I study; it makes for deeper conversations that are all-around fun. I also learn a lot about topics that I would otherwise not even know about thanks to the efforts of contributors to the Journal. Most significantly, the Journal of the American Revolution is, in my opinion, on an especially important mission. Within the Journals’ archives, scholars will uncover research and narratives that have never been written about before. The articles published with the Journal reveal stories and research that are threatened with being forgotten and lost. By placing these stories at the forefront, the Journal is not only giving them their time in the sun but is also adding them to their archive which will remain in the body of human knowledge forever. The Journal is essentially saving these stories from extinction (libraries close, sources are lost or destroyed—no source is completely safe from disappearance). By placing underappreciated stories about the American Revolution at the forefront of their publishing objectives, the Journal is saving history, one story at a time.

Is there an article, or subject area, that you would like to see appear in JAR?

I would like to see the inclusion of the French and Indian War in the publishing objectives of JAR. The war was an important precursor to the American Revolution and had profound implications that reverberated throughout the Imperial Crisis to affect the Cause of Liberty. Currently, there are almost no outlets outside of academic publications that publish articles on the French and Indian War.

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