In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section War in Literature and Drama

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Edited Collections
  • Interviews
  • Pedagogical Approaches
  • Anthologies
  • Bibliographic Resources
  • Special Journal Issues
  • Journals
  • Classical Wars
  • Wars of the Middle Ages
  • The English Civil Wars
  • The American Revolution
  • The US-Mexican War
  • The American Civil War
  • The Spanish Civil War
  • World War I
  • World War II
  • The Korean War
  • The Cold War and the Nuclear War Era
  • The Vietnam War
  • The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • The War on Terror
  • Other Wars
  • Futuristic Wars
  • Children’s Literature
  • Race and War
  • The “Other”
  • Women and War
  • Gender and War
  • War Correspondents
  • Autobiographical Writing
  • The Holocaust
  • Trauma Studies
  • The Home Front
  • The Returning Veteran and War’s Aftermath
  • Antiwar Studies
  • The Body and War
  • War and the Comics

Military History War in Literature and Drama
Catherine Calloway
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0004


The literature of war has existed since the first literary texts were written. Scholars have been quick to acknowledge that war is a dominant force in the works of the three earliest cultures: the Greeks, the Romans, and the Hebrews. Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey reflect a culture of war as does Virgil’s The Aeneid and the Hebrew Bible. Even the ancient Sumerian epic Gilgamesh includes an epic battle with an enemy force that must be defeated. These literary works and many others that span the centuries since the classical era remind us that war is a constant in society and a topic that will continue to ensure critical debate. It is as universal as themes of love or death or time or human frailty. The proliferation of recent scholarship on war serves only to remind us that war is still very much a contemporary issue and that war literature is a popular topic for publication. Since 1890, the literature of war has generated almost 23,000 books, essays, theses, dissertations, and other materials—far too many to enumerate in this selective article—as well as special collections of war materials at many universities, Journals and journal issues, and numerous conference sessions. A century after the first scholarship appeared, in the 1980s and 1990s especially, a growing number of scholars began writing in earnest about war and literature, and their efforts have continued into the 21st century. The wars they treat are frequently well known to the general populace. For instance, a large body of literary criticism exists on the American Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II and the Holocaust, the Cold War and the nuclear age, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Scholars have also treated the Boer War, the Hundred Years War, the English Civil Wars, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the US-Mexican War, as well as lesser-known conflicts like the Chaco War, Zimbabwe’s War of Liberation, and the New Zealand Wars. The literature of war takes a wide variety of approaches in its efforts to comprehend the war experience and encompasses scholarship on a number of genres, including poetry, drama, short stories, novels, journals, diaries, oral histories, memoirs, and letters. While early scholarship focused most fully on white male soldiers, it has gradually evolved to include gender and minority studies, Trauma Studies, bicultural studies, the effects of war on the Home Front, the significance of the human body, and even the graphic novel and the comics. The 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City as well as other acts of terrorism around the globe have resulted in a new body of literature that considers the War on Terror.

General Overviews

The entries in this section cover canonical book-length volumes that currently exist on war and literature. Riggs 2012 offers over three hundred literary works in a three-volume set designed for the avid reader of war literature or the teacher searching for classroom selections. Bevan 1989 provides an early essay collection on a number of diverse wars, and Vernon 2013 collects essays that span the Trojan War to the early-21st-century war in Afghanistan. McLoughlin 2009 provides an edited Cambridge Companion that studies the concept of war from the Bible to the 21st-century War on Terror. Krimmer 2010 studies the treatment of war in German literature, and Goldensohn 2003 juxtaposes the poets of World War I with those of Vietnam. Norris 2000 spans the wars of the 20th century and considers as well the related subjects of the Manhattan Project and Hiroshima.

  • Bevan, David, ed. Literature and War. Rodopi Perspectives on Modern Literature 3. Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi, 1989.

    Brings together fourteen essays by scholars in the field who consider the literary responses to a variety of wars, including the Great War, the Spanish Civil War, the Vietnam War, the French Resistance, war in Uruguay, and Portuguese colonial war literature as well as postmodern Colonialism and literary war strategies.

  • Goldensohn, Lorrie. Dismantling Glory: Twentieth-Century Soldier Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

    Includes relevant chapters on four poets of the world wars: Wilfred Owen, W. H. Auden, Keith Douglas, and Randall Jarrell. Concludes with a chapter on “American Poets of the Vietnam War” (pp. 235–340).

  • Krimmer, Elisabeth. The Representation of War in German Literature: From 1800 to the Present. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511750816

    Provides a solid overview of the way that war has been portrayed in German literature from the 17th-century Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars through the world wars and the more recent conflicts in Yugoslavia and Iraq. Focuses in particular on eight writers: Friedrich Schiller, Heinrich von Kleist, Ernst Jünger, Erich Maria Remarque, Heinrich Böll, Günter Grass, Peter Handke, and Elfriede Jelinek.

  • McLoughlin, Kate, ed. The Cambridge Companion to War Writing. Cambridge Companions to Literature. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521895682

    Collects twenty essays by scholars in the field that examine both the commonalities and the differences of wars and that focus on a wide variety of topics: the notion of war, the Bible, classical writers, the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Victorian era, the Spanish Civil War, the world wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, and terrorism.

  • Norris, Margot. Writing War in the Twentieth Century. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000.

    An insightful study of texts that treat World War I, World War II, the Manhattan Project, Hiroshima, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf War, works that are “intended to function not as singular voices but as voices in dialogue and dispute with other texts and other voices” (p. 14).

  • Riggs, Thomas, ed. The Literature of War. 3 vols. Literature of Society Series. Detroit: St. James, 2012.

    Introduction by Kate McLoughlin. A substantial work that contains over twelve hundred pages of thematically organized selections on war. Volume 1 covers approaches to war, including histories, theories, and eyewitness accounts; Volume 2, the experiences of those affected by war, including combatants, women, prisoners of war, and the home front; and Volume 3, “the impacts of war on individuals, communities, cultures, and human values” (p. xiv).

  • Vernon, Alex, ed. War. Critical Insights. Ipswich, MA: Salem, 2013.

    A wide-ranging collection of fifteen essays that treat literary approaches to a variety of wars throughout history, including Homer’s The Iliad, Shakespeare’s Henry V, captivity narratives, science fiction, women’s writing and works of the Civil War, the Holocaust, the nuclear age, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. Includes suggestions for further reading.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.