African Studies Boer War
Bill Nasson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0224

General Introduction

The Boer War of 1899–1902, also termed the Anglo-Boer War or South African War, was waged by Britain to establish its imperial supremacy in South Africa and by Boers/Afrikaners to defend their independent republican order and control of the destiny of the white settler states they had secured in the interior. Large, long, controversial and costly, the Boer War was a colonial conflict which finally completed the British imperial conquest of the Southern African region. As is to be expected of a war that has a widely recognized significance not only in the history of European imperialism in Southern Africa but in world history more generally, literature on the 1899–1902 conflict is, simply, enormous. Scholarship is available not merely in English and in Afrikaans, but also in Dutch, French, German, Russian, Spanish, and even in Japanese. As it happens, more recent decades have seen the publication of sizeable bibliographies covering a century of writings on the Boer War in German and in Dutch. Although it could obviously not be claimed that every aspect of the 1899–1902 period—military, political, economic, social, or cultural—has been treated, evenly or otherwise, by so vast a body of literature, the sheer quantity of work available has to influence the scope and selectivity of any Boer War bibliography of this kind. While this bibliographic article includes some seminal early pieces, it is weighted toward more recently works and, in particular, includes scholarship which contains detailed bibliographies covering aspects of warfare (battles, sieges) that are not a specific focus of the approach taken here. Secondly, other classifiable areas of historiography which fall beyond the limits of this article, such as war memory and commemoration, and postwar economic reconstruction and political state-making, are treated—in some instances, quite substantially—in single-author general overviews and in multi-author edited treatments. In other respects, this article goes beyond more conventional historical terrain in including the war’s literary and cultural influences.

The Anglo-Boer Crisis and the Causes of War

For many decades, much academic or more scholarly writing on the war concentrated on understanding the basis of the pre-1899 Anglo-Boer political and diplomatic crisis and on explaining the cause or causes of the Boer War. Differences among writers over the origin of armed hostilities have been the source of lively and vigorous debate for over a century, with participating arguments animated by a number of ideological vantage points in their historical approaches.

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