Military Masculinities in the Long Nineteenth Century

The conference on military masculinities (20-21 May 2015) was one of the most interesting I have attended, thanks to excellent organisation by Anna Maria Barry and Emma Butcher, and to the innovative and interesting research presented throughout.

Speakers were a brilliant mix of new, early career, and established scholars (the programme is here) and the audience was unfailingly convivial and supportive. It was great to meet people I only knew through Twitter and to discover tweeters new to me while tweeting about the papers.

One of the things I found really surprising was that I could listen to the speaker, tweet about his/her paper, while reading other people’s tweets on the same paper (less difficult than it sounds) and engage in a ‘live’ conversation that really sparked ideas, thoughts, and questions, which the speaker could join in during Q&A and later via Twitter.

I’m a historian of emotions and materiality and thus my paper explored the role of both in circulating and ‘fixing’ ideals of military masculinities – soldiers and sailors – to individuals and society more broadly. You can see the Prezi presentation of my paper here:

– not much substance available because I’ve yet to write up chunks of it, but lots of gorgeous images and objects!

Perhaps one of the things that struck me most is the extent to which many scholars from different disciplines are using both emotions and materiality to think about research questions and issues. It seems to me that this is going to open up so many possibilities and different directions.

Many of us considered soldiers, sailors, and their families’ emotions and inevitably we began to consider how these might change within the different periods and technologies of the Napoleonic wars through the Crimean to the modern, mechanist wars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Military men’s bodies were often central too, and we discussed idealised bodies, inadequate bodies, ill, broken, and abused bodies, and, even, immaterial bodies in the form of ghosts.

The conference was also a feast for the senses. It was wonderfully evocative to hear military songs sung live and early recordings of music. So too was seeing so many glorious images and objects on speakers’ presentations. I was just stunned by the lovely objects that were on display from the York Army Museum, which we were able to handle. These highlight what a wonderful resource military ‘sources’ are for scholars beyond the field of military history.

I am so excited by the prospect of an edited collection published from this conference because it will showcase inter-disciplinary and important work on the power of military masculinities.


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