The history of military development in modern times is one of mutual observation and comparison. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, political and military leaders continuously evaluated the power of their friends and foes. Members of the military, politicians and activists looked to foreign forces for models to avoid or emulate, using comparisons to justify their own military and defense policies. The workshop Comparing Militaries in the Long 19th Century explores the means and methods by which experts and decision-makers observed and compared foreign armies and navies from the era of the Napoleonic Wars to the inter-war period.
Although military historians emphasize the role of a comparative cross-border perspective as a recurrent pattern, their focus on national debates and developments has often prevented them from focusing on the forms and functions of mutual observation and comparison in detail. Similarly, scholars of military and defense politics have often noted the transnational diffusion of ideas, practices and institutions, but the diffusion process rarely appears as a central research topic. Previous research has not yet fully revealed how war observers, attachés or spies, at different times, collected, selected and presented military information on foreign powers and how decision makers, experts and critics received, reviewed and reinterpreted their impressions. Furthermore, the precise relationship between external observation and internal developments has often remained unspecified and underexamined.
Against this backdrop, the workshop aims to launch a discussion on transnational military comparison. We welcome theoretical and empirical studies which tackle one of the following themes and invite contributions that
1) describe and analyze different practices of military observation and comparison, the actors that conducted them and the circumstances under which they operated. Who compared militaries, how did they do it, what methods and metrics were applied and how did different modes of comparison develop over time?
2) explain why actors compared militaries and why different methods of observation and comparison emerged. Were military comparisons functions of social change, domestic politics, shifts in the international balance of power or global developments?
3) demonstrate how military observations and comparisons shaped historical processes on the micro, meso or macro levels. (How) did military comparisons, for instance, affect military reform and development, arms races and conflicts, strategic and political readjustments?
4) discuss why the study of military observation and comparisons matters. What do we learn about substantial issues such as the dissemination of ideas, the emulation of practices, institutional development, the emergence of epistemic communities and the great transformations of the long 19th century? What is the methodological benefit of analyzing practices of comparison instead of actors or institutions? How does this contribute to the development of related fields such as military, political, technological, cultural or transnational/global history?
Interested candidates of all disciplines are invited to submit a short abstract of their prospective presentation (title plus short résumé, ca. 300 words) as well as a short academic CV by July, 15th 2018 via email to the following email address:
This workshop is funded by the collaborative research center SFB 1288 “Practices of comparing” and the Bielefeld Graduate School in History and Sociology (BGHS).