Atlantic History Warfare
by
Geoffrey Plank
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 December 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0064

Introduction

Military history has a large, varied constituency, and it may well be the most popular subfield within the historical profession. This, however, can be a mixed blessing for scholars seeking the attention of other academic historians, who too frequently assume that those who study warfare are either fascinated by the minutia of specific engagements (as many popular military historians are), or, like some within the military academies, are seeking to acquire applicable lessons from the events of the past. These stereotypes are unfair. Over the past several decades, military historians have produced work of enormous sweep and consequence, and they have demonstrated the centrality of warfare in the making of the Atlantic world. Of course, military historians are not the only scholars interested in wars. Warfare affected literature, art, politics, and economics—indeed, nearly every facet of life around the Atlantic. This article concentrates on works that focus specifically on armed forces. For works examining terror and the use of force against noncombatants, see the article “Violence.”

General Overviews

Virtually all surveys of the military history of the world of the Early Modern era are centered on explaining the rise of European power. Within this body of work, Parker 1996 has had by far the greatest influence. Parker’s explanation for “the rise of the West” centers on changes within Europe. In an effort to take a fuller view, Black 2007 reviews the academic literature on non-European peoples as well. Diamond 1997 attributes the military success of Eurasian peoples to the orientation, geography, and natural resources of their continent. Raudzens 2001 offers a collection of essays pleading for us to take a step back from global generalizations.

  • Black, Jeremy. European Warfare in a Global Context, 1660–1815. New York: Routledge, 2007.

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    In a sweeping survey of literature, Black takes issue with any contention that European forces consistently enjoyed tactical advantages over their non-European adversaries. Black attributes European success to economic, bureaucratic, and logistical advantages.

  • Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: Norton, 1997.

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    Diamond argues that the east-west orientation of Eurasia and the suitability of certain animals there for domestication facilitated travel, the exchange of technology, and the development of disease immunities, all of which strengthened the Eurasians’ chances in competition with others.

  • Parker, Geoffrey. The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500–1800. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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    Parker argues that Europe’s armies changed their tactics in response to 16th-century innovations in fortification, and that the resulting technological, tactical, and institutional changes won the Europeans military supremacy over all the other peoples of the world.

  • Raudzens, George, ed. Technology, Disease, and Colonial Conquests, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries: Essays Reappraising the Guns and Germs Theories. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2001.

    E-mail Citation »

    With essays examining European expansion in a variety of contexts, the contributors question whether better immunity from diseases and superior technology consistently gave the Europeans a decisive edge.

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