Military History Popular Culture and Modern War
Allison Abra
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 April 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0203


This bibliography includes histories that explore the manifold meanings and purposes that popular culture has possessed in wartime. Popular culture provides entertainment and escapism for soldiers and civilians, while also allowing them to imagine and give expression to their wartime identities, and social and political worlds. Militaries embrace song or sport to entertain, but also to train and condition their troops. On the home front, it is often on the movie screen or the dance floor, or at the concert hall or the baseball game, where critical issues about class, race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and nation are reflected, experienced, and debated. Popular culture also serves as a potent means of official and unofficial propaganda, and can offer a means of resistance against authoritarianism or occupation, or a pathway toward recovery from war. The bibliography adopts a broad definition of “popular culture,” which eliminates socially and historically constructed distinctions between “high” and “low” cultures, to consider the wide range of leisure forms and performing arts that entertained and shaped the experience of individuals and societies in wartime. The focus is primarily on popular cultural forms that possess an interactive or technologically-driven relationship between producer and consumer, or performer and audience, and so the bibliography does not deal with literature or the visual arts, which each have their own disciplinary specialists and immense scholarly literatures. The bibliography is also only concerned with popular culture produced during the war or wars in question, rather than as part of the retrospective articulation of individual or collective memory. Temporally, it is focused on the era of total war and beyond, including World War I, World War II, the Cold War and decolonization, and the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Significantly, at almost precisely the same moment in the early 20th century, warfare and popular culture both evolved and modernized in critical ways. The First World War erupted just as the Jazz Age took hold; new technologies for cultural dissemination emerged, and the transnational commercial leisure industries surrounding music, film, dance, theater, sport and a range of other cultural forms expanded exponentially. Works in this bibliography are concerned with what followed, and the intertwined modernities of both war and popular culture.

General Overviews

General overviews on the topic of military history and popular culture tend to fall into two main categories: chronological accounts of a nation or region’s popular culture over a specific time period that includes one or more military conflicts, or studies of the uses of popular culture and the broad range of entertainment and leisure activities available during a specific war, in either national or transnational context. Within the context of the centenary of the First World War, that conflict has received considerable attention from historians in recent years. However, there are also a number of histories of the popular culture of World War II and post-1945 conflicts.

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