Soldiers and soldiering in Britain, c.1750 to 1815.
- Start date: 1 July 2010
- End date: 30 December 2011
- Funder: Arts and Humanities Research Council
- Primary investigator: Dr Kevin Linch
- External co-investigators: Dr Matthwe McCormack
Partners and collaborators
University of Northampton
Britain's relationship with its soldiers during the eighteenth century was a complex one. Georgians branded these men a danger to liberty, victims of oppression, and 'bloody backs', whilst also celebrating their victories and championing their generals, such as General Wolfe at Quebec in 1759.
Britain's soldiers were both heroes and the 'scum of the earth', yet this dynamic and multifaceted connection has yet to be fully explored, largely because the scale of Britain's military mobilisation has not been recognised, nor its significance fully appreciated.
This fraught relationship became more complicated with the increasing mobilisation of the male population into novel forms of military service beyond the full-time soldiering of the British Army.
The militia, reformed during the Seven Years' War in 1757, and large-scale volunteer forces (part-time soldiers raised for home defence) in the American War of Independence and especially the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars created new types of soldier in Britain and new ways for men to be under arms. At its peak in the Napoleonic Wars, some 680,000 men were involved in some form of military service, yet the experiences of these men remains largely forgotten.
To better understand the concept of soldiering and explore the similarities and differences between the different forms of military service in Britain, this project explored the language, broadly defined, in which the soldier was described by others and written about by themselves, thus contextualising shifts in attitudes towards soldiers and soldiering.
Working from the premise that a 'soldier' was a particular category within society that was defined by contemporaries and by soldiers themselves, and therefore relational and contextual rather than being fixed, the project utilised methodological techniques more commonly seen in the social sciences and gender history when studying identity to create new knowledge on the topic.
The principal impact of the project was to bring together a wide community of those interested in the subject of Britain's soldiers in the Eighteenth Century through the project website, a conference, more immediate publication of knowledge, and communication through social media.
The project brought together academics, current students, and those interested in the period and fostered an effective community of interest where knowledge and ideas could be exchanged.
There were over 3,000 unique visits to the site (up to 3 January 2012), and visitors made significant use of the content, spending an average of 3 minutes on the site and viewing 4 pages each visit. 154 people registered to use the interactive tools on the site (a discussion forum, questions and answers, and a profile page), of which 47% were not academics or students and 46% were international.
The project included a digital repository of primary source material, from which users had downloaded items 100 times. The website was designed to encourage engagement in preparation for the conference, which resulted in being attended by 39 people, with a mixture of academics, students, and non-academics.
The different elements of the project were knitted together through the use of social media, such as twitter to advertise the publication of new resources or blog for more in-depth discussions, as well as the discussion generated by the community itself.
Overall, participants rated the project very highly (3.7 out of 5, 5 = very useful). The networking features of the project, such as the online discussion forum and the conference, were particularly appreciated and successful. One comment from a retired museum curator, currently publishing in military history, sums up the experience of many of those involved: '[the project] brings together not only academic staff, but also independent researchers and 'amateurs' (in the best sense of the word) in a very fruitful exchange, both on the website and at the conference.
A particular feature is that it gives confidence to non-academics to present their research, which is often of a high standard but is not necessarily normally given a forum in a university context.' Furthermore, the project had a significant impact on current students, who gave the project the highest ratings (4.6 / 5) and they especially welcomed access to other experts in the field, both academics and non-academics.
The impact of the project will continue in the future too, as the project website and its resources have been secured for the future and new resources continued to be added to the site.
Publications and outputs