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Annual Booklist 2017-2018 : Erica Charters

Dr Erica Charters is Associate Professor at the Faculty of History, University of Oxford, and author of Disease, War, and the Imperial State: The Welfare of the British Armed Forces during the Seven Years War (Chicago, 2014), and co-editor of Civilians and War in Europe, 1618-1815 (Liverpool, 2012).


John Shy’s Toward Lexington: The Role of the British Army in the Coming of the American Revolution (Princeton, 1965). This is a wonderful study of the British Army that points out the significant role of armies during peacetime, and provides a nuanced account of civil-military tensions. First published in 1965, I was pleased to see that it has been recently re-published, and as an e-book too.

Philip D. Curtin Disease and Empire: The Health of European Troops in the Conquest of Africa (Cambridge, 1998). Curtin uses a wealth of quantitative data to thoughtfully analyse the role of disease for European – particularly British and French – troops in nineteenth-century colonial warfare and in European views of empire more broadly. His account seamlessly weaves together military, medical, and imperial history, and opened my eyes to the extensive role of disease in war.

Michael N. McConnell Army and Empire: British Soldiers on the American Frontier, 1758-1775 (Nebraska, 2008). This uses a variety of types of evidence – including archaeological and material culture – to capture the daily lives of British soldiers at the edges of the British Empire. Focusing on army life in isolated garrisons, it shows soldiers acting more as police and labourers, cultivating gardens, forming communities, sometimes with wives and children.

Erica Wald, Vice in the Barracks: Medicine, the Military and the Making of Colonial India, 1780-1868 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). This is a history with an impressive scope far beyond that of prostitution or alcohol. Wald convincingly frames her analysis of medicine, intemperance, and venereal disease within a broader argument about the centrality of the army and military concerns to the shaping of British rule in India.

John Brewer, The Sinews of Power: War, Money and the English State, 1688-1783 (Unwin Hyman / Routledge, 1989). While Sinews of Power might not seem an obvious history of the British Army, its claim to the crucial role of war-making for eighteenth-century Britain meant that histories of armies and campaigns became part of mainstream eighteenth-century academic scholarship. It is a valuable resource in grasping the nature – and extent – of British eighteenth-century wars.

There is a wealth of exciting new scholarship on the history of the British Army, but I would be keen to see more studies that make explicit the global history of this institution – not just in its deployment around the world, but its ability to develop networks that transcended national boundaries. While the army was indeed British, it was transnational in its composition, its logistics depended on global networks of trade and manufacturing, it operated within international coalitions, and its varied activities depended on recruiting, training, and contracting troops, labourers, and skilled workers beyond Britain.

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