In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section War and Memory in the Napoleonic Wars

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Autobiographical Memory
  • Biographical Memory
  • Film
  • Literature
  • Visual and Performing Arts
  • Gaming
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Propaganda and the Press

Military History War and Memory in the Napoleonic Wars
Jonathan Abel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0204


The Napoleonic Wars took place from 1802 to 1815 and fundamentally altered the political, social, cultural, and military structures of Europe and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the world. This created a collective memory that influenced, and continues to influence, the modern world in a myriad of ways. The conflicts were a continuation of the French Revolutionary Wars, which bear their own collective and historical memory. They involved nearly every power in Europe, affecting them each to varying degrees. Political and legal systems changed, both as a result of Revolutionary ideals and the introduction of the Code Napoléon. Nationalism and national identity formation accelerated during the period, often benefiting from opposition to Napoleon or the destruction of existing systems wrought by the Revolutionary spirit that French armies brought to occupied territories, spurring the creation of national memory wherever they appeared. Napoleon and his power, undeniable genius, success, and ultimate failure have proven an irresistible and enduring figure of autobiographical and biographical memory in realms as diverse as fiction, wargaming, and history, both popular and academic. The methods of his armies became the paradigm for contemporary militaries, and their legacy continues to form the bedrock of collective, institutional, and popular memory. The arts contain their own cultural memory of Napoleon, many of which remain current. Collectively, the various aspects of the cultural and historical memory of the Napoleonic Wars have become a part of many important areas of history and historiography. As a result, works on Napoleon, his empire, and the Napoleonic Wars are voluminous and grow significantly every year.

Introductory Works

The historiography of the Napoleonic Wars is immense; the following works provide an introduction to the topic. Mikaberidze 2020 is the newest and most comprehensive account of the conflicts. Schneid 2012 contains a recent historiography of them. Broers 2002, Schroeder 1994, and Scott 2015 examine the effects of the First Empire and the place of the Napoleonic Wars in the larger political evolution of the period. Engberg-Pedersen 2015 gives a more impressionistic account of the time. Erll 2011 and Rossington and Whitehead 2007 survey the field of history and memory. Finally, Broers and Caiani 2020 and Hazareesingh 2005 examine the cultural and historical memory of the period.

  • Broers, Michael. Europe under Napoleon, 1799–1815. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2002.

    Foundational study of the Napoleonic Empire. Broers divides it into “inner” and “outer” segments, depending on the degree to which French mores became standardized. While the characterization of particular regions into either category has been challenged, the overall schema is one that has largely been accepted in Napoleonic historiography.

  • Broers, Michael, and Ambrogio Caiani, eds. A History of the European Restorations. Vol. 1, Governments, States, and Monarchy. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020.

    Sweeping collection analyzing the construction of a new world order after Napoleon. Essays examine every major and several minor states as they strove to return to restore order, illustrating the impact of the Napoleonic Wars even on states they did not directly touch.

  • Engberg-Pedersen, Anders. Empire of Chance: The Napoleonic Wars and the Disorder of Things. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.4159/9780674425415

    Epistemological approach to the titular subject. Engberg-Pedersen ranges across disciplines to provide an effective summary of the cultural memory of the Napoleonic Wars.

  • Erll, Astrid. Memory in Culture. Translated by Sara Young. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230321670

    Survey of the history of studies in cultural memory. Effective introduction into the study of history and memory, including chapters on literature and media.

  • Hazareesingh, Sudhir. The Legend of Napoleon. London: Granta Books, 2005.

    Mining of primary and archival sources to illustrate the evolution and growth of historical and cultural memory of Napoleon and his wars. While its conclusions may be a bit determinative, Hazareesingh’s work is an excellent survey of the topic.

  • Mikaberidze, Alexander. The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

    Superior one-volume history of the subject. Mikaberidze bases his narrative on archival research in eight countries and provides a detailed account of the topic, including global aspects of the conflicts and their impact.

  • Rossington, Michael, and Anne Whitehead, eds. Theories of Memory: A Reader. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007.

    Collection of foundational works in the field of history and memory. Expert commentary introduces each section, summarizing the main themes and tying them to the larger enterprise.

  • Schneid, Frederick. Napoleonic Wars. Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2012.

    Summative historiography of the Napoleonic Wars that cuts through the volumes of works on the subject to highlight the most important to each subfield, including the wars themselves, their origins, the Napoleonic Empire, and the armies of the period. The starting point for every historical study of the Napoleonic Wars.

  • Schroeder, Paul. The Transformation of European Politics, 1763–1848. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994.

    Diplomatic history that places the Napoleonic period as the fulcrum of the era. Schroeder, in great detail, illustrates the systemic changes wrought by Napoleon throughout European politics, which provides a foundation for the cultural memory of the era.

  • Scott, H. M. The Birth of the Great Power System, 1740–1815. London: Routledge, 2015.

    Political history of the evolution of modern politics. Scott posits the Napoleonic period as the culmination of this process, first as Napoleon conquered Europe, then as Europe responded by assembling its constituent powers to replace him with a balance of power.

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