war and society

I’m teaching a graduate course at Mason this summer called “War and Society in Modern Europe.” I haven’t worked out a syllabus yet, but here is a course description and book list. There will be other readings, too, but these are the books that we’ll read in common.

Course Description

Modern European history cannot be understood without also studying the history of war. Likewise, the history of war in modern Europe cannot be understood independently of the broader social, political, cultural, economic, and technological context within which Europeans fought their wars. Ironically, however, military developments do not receive adequate attention in general European history, and broad developments in European society tend to be overlooked in histories of warfare—or so it often seems. In fact, there are general historians, albeit too few, who incorporate military history into their research and teaching, and there are military historians who carefully contextualize their work. If military history is sometimes looked down upon in the academy, its practitioners and those who refuse to accept the label of “military historian” have nonetheless produced an impressive body of work. In a field described with labels such as “war and society” and “new military history,” it has become possible to link military history, social history, cultural history, gender history, political history, and economic history to understand the all-encompassing activity that war became by the early twentieth century, if not earlier. In this course, we will sample some of this literature as well as a limited number of primary sources, whereby the emphasis will be on the historiography. We will discuss books in common, and each student will also present and write a review of a specialized monograph. The larger project for the term will be a historiographical essay that reviews the relevant literature on a specific topic, either covering an aspect of war and its societal context or examining a seemingly nonmilitary development and its actual relationship to war.

Required Books

  • Connolly, Owen, The Wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon, 1792–1815. New edition. Routledge, 2005. [ISBN: 0415239842]
  • Showalter, Dennis. The Wars of German Unification. Arnold, 2004. [ISBN: 0340580178]
  • Gregory, Adrian. The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War. Cambridge UP, 2008. [ISBN: 0521728835]
  • Davis, Belinda J. Home Fires Burning: Food, Politics, and Everyday Life in World War I Berlin. U of North Carolina P, 2000. [ISBN: 0807848379]
  • Stites, Richard. Culture and Entertainment in Wartime Russia. Indiana UP, 1995. [ISBN: 0253209498]
  • Mosse, George L. Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars. Oxford UP, 1991. [ISBN: 0195071395]
  • Klimke, Martin and Maria Höhn, A Breath of Freedom: The Civil Rights Struggle, African American GIs, and Germany. Palgrave, 2010. [ISBN: 0230104738]

Recommended Books

  • Townsend, Charles, ed. The Oxford History of Modern War. Updated edition. Oxford UP, 2005. [ISBN: 0192806459]
  • Morillo, Stephen with Michael F. Pavovich. What is Military History? Polity, 2006. [ISBN: 0745633919]

Students who are unfamiliar with the material or are eager to learn more might also want to read two classic surveys on this subject: Geoffrey Best, War and Society in Revolutionary Europe 1770–1870 and Brian Bond, War and Society in Europe 1870–1970.

Yesterday I asked how I could integrate the consumption history I’m learning into my teaching, and I pointed to a couple examples where it’s already there. But I missed a glaringly obvious one: the Great War.

Consumption is a vital part of the story in Gerald Feldman’s classic Army, Industry, and Labor in Germany, 1914—1918 (1966), insofar as the purchasing power of labor was inextricably linked to Germany’s social and political stability and, therefore, the country’s ability to produce sufficient armaments to continue fighting. The point is more accessible in Roger Chickering, Imperial Germany and the Great War, 1914—1918 (1998 and 2004), which I have used in a course on the Great War and will use again next fall in one on modern Germany. There is also Belinda Davis, Home Fires Burning: Food, Politics, and Everyday Life in World War I Berlin (2000), which I will be using in a graduate course on war and society this summer.

I also usually bring up a much earlier aspect of consumption history when I address the Enlightenment and the public sphere: coffee houses. To make this point, there is a delightful reading from before the Enlightenment on the Internet Modern History Sourcebook: “The First English Coffee-Houses, c. 1670—1675.”

Of course, none of this is informed by a specific historiography of consumption history, but it does point out how this topic is already in my teaching. But there’s a difference between including a topic and addressing it systematically. To think about war and society in Europe, I can at least draw on the periodizing nomenclature of cabinet war, people’s war, and total war to help describe the level of societal involvement in interstate conflicts over the past few centuries (Stig Förster et al.). If such language and periodization exists for understanding consumption history, I have not yet learned it.

Perhaps the main point is to recognize modern consumer societies as having a history in the first place, instead of taking them as a direct reflection of human nature and, hence, rendering them ahistorical, as too often happens in simplistic political rhetoric that opposes capitalism and communism—rhetoric that invariably finds its way into student spoken and written comments. I sometimes try to do this with economic thought in the early modern period, but historicizing capitalism should be a central historiographical problem for the modern era, too.

If you are just looking for some quick information on German soldiers and French civilians in the war of 1870–71, see an older post on this blog, “Atrocities in the Franco-Prussian War, 1870–71.” Otherwise, please read on.

I decided to upload my MA thesis to Google Docs to make this information available to the general public. The file is huge, 34.9 MB, because I had to scan the original some time ago, having produced it on my 1987 Mac in 1994 and not having electronic copies of the illustrations or a way to make the pagination of the text come out the same as the original on my old ImageWriter. I tried to reduce its size with the usually magical PDF Shrink, but the result looked awful in this case.

Before I get to the thesis, though, let me list two relevant articles I wrote, which are better, in case that is what you are after. This might seem like a silly, self-agrandizing exercise to some, but since this blog frequently get hits from people using search engines like Google to learn about this war, I think getting this information together in one post could be helpful.

First, there is “The Bavarian Army and French Civilians in the War of 1870–1871: A Cultural Interpretation,” War in History 8.3 (2001): 271–93. (Reprinted in Warfare in Europe 1825–1914. Edited by Peter Wilson. The International Library of Essays on Military History, ed. Jeremy Black. Ashgate Publishing, 2006. 135–58.) Here’s the abstract. The advantage to this article is it is all in English, and it integrates my earlier findings into the total war debate discussed at a productive series of conferences launched in 1992 by the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC. (See the titles that contain “total war” on this page, but ignore the links, which don’t seem to work outside the institute.) In terms of the actual subject, it devotes quite a bit of space to a close-up view of Bazeilles.

The other article I wrote on this topic is “Die deutschen Greueltaten im Krieg 1870/71 am Beispiel der Bayern,” in Kriegsgreuel: Die Entgrenzung der Gewalt in kriegerischen Konflikten vom Mittelalter bis ins 20. Jahrhundert, ed. Sönke Neitzel and Daniel Hohrath (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2008), 223–39. If you don’t read German, I’m sorry. Check out the link at the end of this paragraph and then move to the next one. If you do read German, this article lets you see the original language of the sources, instead of making you read my translations. It is also in an interesting edited collection on atrocities. The big difference between this and the article in English is that I do not spend much time on Bazeilles here, instead devoting much more attention to other interactions with civilians, both positive and negative. Also, I had to try to frame it in a way that fit the volume’s overall concept. For more information, see an older post on this blog, “Atrocities in the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-71,” which summarizes the highlights.

Personally, I think my articles on the Franco-Prussian War are much more readable than my old master’s thesis, and their arguments are certainly more mature, not least because they engage more recent historiography. Still, I own the copyright to this thesis, but not my articles, so why not share? Here: “The Bavarian Army and French Civilians in the War of 1870–71.” M.A. thesis, Universität Augsburg, 1994. One oddity: It is written in English, but all the quotes are in the language in which I found them, usually German. That will irritate some, but it will possibly help anyone who wants to see the original German quotes that I translated into English for the War in History piece.

Lastly, for the sake of completeness, here’s a short blog post that explains how I happened upon this topic: “Paradoxes.” It was my first post on this blog. I thought it would become a part of a series, but the blog has had less focus than that, as blogs often do.

Now if anyone wants to suggest an appropriate internet archive to upload my MA thesis to and can explain why that particular archive is a good bet, I’m all ears. I’d be especially interested in finding something that deals with either the military topic or this period in German history. For now, though, my Google Docs solution will have to do.

Update, Feb. 12, 2012: For more posts on military and other history, please visit my new blog, Stoneman’s Corner.

An essay on the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) that I wrote last year appeared in print this fall in a book about war atrocities from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. Here’s the reference, in case you read German: Mark R. Stoneman, “Die deutschen Greueltaten im Krieg 1870/71 am Beispiel der Bayern,” in Sönke Neitzel and Daniel Hohrath, eds., Kriegsgreuel: Die Entgrenzung der Gewalt in kriegerischen Konflikten vom Mittelalter bis ins 20. Jahrhundert (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2008), 223–39.

The essay focusses on German soldiers and French civilians using the example of the Bavarians. It examines why soldiers sometimes departed from generally accepted standards in Europe about sparing civilians the effects of war as much as possible.

The war began as a “cabinet war” that the German leadership hoped to win quickly through a series of decisive battles of annihilation. In this way the state, led by the king and his cabinet, would maintain control over the war effort and not face any undue influence from civilians, whether its own or those of the enemy. After destroying the Second Empire’s army at Sedan, however, France refused to capitulate. Its people toppled the empire and vowed to fight on. The German leadership had a “people’s war” on its hands that it took five more months to win. While the French and Germans fought most of this war with conventional means between armed forces organized by the state, the war also saw substantial civilian involvement that had the potential to lead to an ever deepening spiral of violence.

The most extensive contact between soldiers and civilians occurred as a result of the German military policy of living off the land, which made German forces more mobile. To maintain discipline, officers were supposed to take small details of soldiers to requisition what animals, fodder, and food their units required. Requisitioning resembled theft in that those whose property the German officers took had no choice in the matter, but it differed insofar as the German officers issued receipts for what they took. These would be paid off by whichever side lost. German forces were also quartered on civilian households. These circumstances enabled soldiers to pursue their own private initiatives. If their “hosts” would not give them what they needed, the soldiers often took it.

More famous, however, were reports of armed French civilians called francs-tireurs. While their number was not great enough to present a strategic threat, the German forces did have to devote some 120,000 soldiers to their lines of communication. Armed incidents led the invading soldiers to shoot suspected partisans summarily, burn down houses and even villages where such incidents occurred, and use hostages, most famously on locomotives. While some reactions had an ad hoc quality to them, the common thread was the notion of “military necessity.” The German forces found the actions regrettable but necessary, in order to prevent the war from lasting longer than necessary. The idea was to counter French “terror” with measures so harsh that the French would see the error of their ways and refrain from any further resistance.

References for these incidents and the historiography of the Franco-Prussian War are available in this new essay as well as the following related one, in which I devote a lot of space to the events in Bazailles, which the Bavarians infamously burned down during the Battle of Sedan: “The Bavarian Army and French Civilians in the War of 1870–1871: A Cultural Interpretation,” in: War in History 8.3 (2001): 271–93. Reprinted in Peter H. Wilson, ed., Warfare in Europe 1825–1914. The International Library of Essays on Military History, ed. Jeremy Black. Ashgate Publishing, 2006. 135–58.

My source base for this research was published personal narratives, that is, letters, diaries, and memoirs. Most of them came from Bavarian soldiers and officers, though I drew on other German narratives by way of comparison. It is in some ways surprising how freely the fighting men wrote about these events, but what they were describing was either acceptable in their minds or told in relation to what lines they believed the French had crossed.

One phenomenon I found little mention of was the hostage-taking. This might be because the Bavarian veterans felt they had crossed a line, although it is also worth noting that their units were not as heavily involved in maintaining lines of communication in the rear, which is where the hostage-taking occurred. Recently I learned more about this subject from Heidi Mehrkens’ new book, which includes a section on the German military using hostages on locomotives. Mehrkens’ book is also helpful, because it uses archival sources that confirm the impressions I gained about relations between soldiers and civilians from the published primary sources.

Update (Aug. 19, 2010): If you want to learn more, see MA Thesis on Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), which links to the thesis.

Update, Feb. 12, 2012: For more posts on military and other history, please visit my new blog, Stoneman’s Corner.


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