Archive | August 2016

A Very Early Modern Olympics

I hope those EMEMHians among you are taking some time out of your busy summer schedule to watch some of the Rio Olympics coverage. In addition to the requisite soccer (aka “football”) and basketball viewing, I’ve decided to dip into the (European) martial arts. Which means adding a bit of fencing (I think I prefer sabre over foil and épée), archery, shooting, equestrian, and, of course, the pentathlon.

Sabre jump lunge

Sabre jump lunge

All of which makes me absolutely astounded at all the individual (or team, with a horse) skills a good early modern military officer was supposed to have. Presumably there are big differences between modern single-event sport specialists and early modern jack-of-all-trades military professionals. And the skills of the average army officer were likely far below what might qualify as “expert.” But it’s interesting to speculate about what historians might learn from such modern echoes of the martial past. As a few historians have done already: skulkers Erik Lund and Gavin Robinson come to mind.

I do wonder, though, what English longbowmen would have done with clickers, sights and stabilizers. And did a cuirass provide as much protection to cavalry troopers as those inflatable vests modern cross-countriers wear?

Modern archer

Modern archer

And I hope you military medical types out there are slightly amused that old-school cupping has joined space-age-polymer kinesio tape as the latest athletic fad:


So who wants to start a petition to get horse archery as an Olympic event? Maybe parade ground evolutions? Or perhaps add ramming to the rowing competitions, followed by some boarding and hand-to-hand: a new triathlon of rowing, followed by jumping/rope climbing, followed by cutlass fencing? (Sounds like Ninja Warrior, now that I think about it…) The possibilities are endless!

Late Summer Reading

As usual, us academics are in frantic end-of-summer research clean-up mode. So in the meantime I’ll mention some recent(ish) works of EMEMH interest.

First up, the latest Journal of Military History has two articles of note:

Tzoref-Ashkenazi, Chen. “German Military Participation in Early Modern European Colonialism.” Journal of Military History 80, no. 3 (July 2016): 671–95.
Abstract: The article examines the military participation of Germans in early modern colonialism, focusing on their service to colonial trading companies and colonial powers. It shows that the German colonial empire had a long pre-history, since German mercenaries provided a vital “tool of empire” for European colonial powers. The article argues that the extensive participation of German soldiers in early modern colonialism demonstrates a hybridity in European colonialism in that national colonial empires relied on trans-national European human resources in addition to local manpower. The article examines German soldiers’ identification with their colonial employers and shows that soldiers recruited as a group retained a stronger sense of separate identity.

Rommelse, Gijs, and Roger Downing. “Victims of an Ideological Rift? Dutch Prisoners of War during the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652–1654).” Journal of Military History 80, no. 3 (July 2016): 649–69.
Abstract: Dutch prisoners from the sea battles of the First Anglo-Dutch War of 1652–1654 were held in England under generally inhumane conditions. It has recently become accepted that ideological differences, as much as commercial, led to the deterioration in relations that led to the conflict. English public opinion had been inflamed by a vicious anti-Dutch propaganda campaign, suggesting that ideological demonization could provide the explanation for the dire treatment to which the prisoners were subjected. It is concluded, however, that logistical problems associated with their reception, plus the chronic lack of money of Cromwell’s regime, provide a sufficient explanation.

For my money, if you ever needed a single diagnostic test to whether a scholar qualifies as a “traditional” military historian, check to see whether their preferred explanatory variable is military, e.g. technical or logistical or tactical constraints, rather than cultural or social. A non-traditional military historian? They’re the ones who use terms like “hybridity”!

And then from a new collection on early modern primary sources:
Younger, Neil. “Warfare.” In Understanding Early Modern Primary Sources, edited by Laura Sangha and Jonathan Willis. Routledge, 2016.

And did I mention that Brian Sandberg’s new book is out?

Sandberg, Brian. War and Conflict in the Early Modern World: 1500-1700. Malden, MA: Polity, 2016.
Abstract: In this latest addition to the War & Conflict Through the Ages series, Brian Sandberg offers a truly global examination of the intersections between war, culture, and society in the early modern period. He traces the innovative military technologies and practices that emerged around 1500, exploring the different forms of warfare including dynastic war, religious warfare, raiding warfare, and peasant revolt  that shaped conflicts during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He explains how significant social, economic, and political developments transformed warfare on land and at sea at a time of global imperialism and growing mercantilism, forcing states and military systems to respond to rapidly changing situations.  Engaging and insightful, War and Conflict in the Early Modern World will appeal to scholars and students of world history, the early modern period, and those interested in the broader relationship between war and society.

Nuff said.