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Military Cultures of Violence — Illegitimate Military Violence from the Early Modern Period to the Second World War

DFG Research Unit FOR 2898
The research group ‘Military Cultures of Violence’ aims to fill an important gap in scholarship on both military history and research on violence: the introduction of the concept of ‘military cultures of violence’ is designed to allow for the systematic description and explanation of sometimes very divergent acts of violence on the part of regular European armed forces that were viewed in contemporary assessments as illegitimate. Such acts are already documented in numerous individual studies, though as yet neither on this chronological and geographical scale nor as part of a wider collaborative and comparative project. ‘Military cultures of violence’ are defined as the violent practices proceeding from members of a collective military agent of violence belonging to a state or a state-like entity, and the associated interpretative ascriptions and discourses.

The research group investigates how and to what extent specific military cultures of violence developed in the regular armies of the European great powers from the early modern period to the end of the Second World War. In the framework of the sub-projects, an attempt will be made to identify in synchronous and diachronic studies the military cultures of violence subjected – like all cultural phenomena – to continual transformation, map out their determining factors, and classify their significance and their explanatory value for military acts of violence on the part of the respective regular agents of violence. The focus of scholarly interest here is physical violence regarded by contemporaries as illegitimate in times of both war and peace, for which reason the question of the changing yardsticks of legitimacy and illegitimacy of violence and conditions for their transformation will be repeatedly posed.

Six positions for doctoral students and two positions for postdoctoral scholars have been approved. The participating institutions are the Humboldt University Berlin, the Free University Berlin, the Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam (ZZF) and the Universities of Göttingen and Bochum. In addition, the Centre for Military History and Social Sciences of the Bundeswehr (ZMSBw) in Potsdam will cooperate with the research group. The speaker of the research group is Professor Sönke Neitzel.


The individual sub-projects are as follows:

Sub-Project 1:
Military Cultures of Violence, as characterised by the two ‘Great Turkish Wars’ (1683–1718) – The Habsburg and Ottoman Armies in Comparison
Principal investigators: Matthias Asche and Markus Koller
Doctoral candidates: Marco Kollenberg and Barbaros Köksal

Sub-Project 2:
Violent Practices and Discourses on Violence during the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763)
Principal investigator: Marian Füssel
Doctoral candidate: Otto Ermakov

Sub-Project 3:
Illegitimate Violence in the French and Austrian Militaries during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1789–1815)
Principal investigator: Tanja Bührer
Postdoctoral researcher: Gundula Gahlen

Sub-Project 4:
The German Military and Excessive Violence during the Franco-Prussian War, 1870/71
Principal investigator: Birgit Aschmann
Doctoral candidate: Jan-Martin Zollitsch
Sub-Project 5:
Violent Men between Great War, Revolution and Second World War (1905–1945): Cossack Military Violence under Different Regimes
Principal investigator: Jan Claas Behrends
Doctoral candidate: Evgen Zinger

Sub-Project 6:
Military Cultures of Violence among British and Commonwealth Armed Forces in the First and Second World Wars (1914–1945)
Principal investigators: Sönke Neitzel and Marcia C. Schenck
Postdoctoral researcher: Alex Kay
Doctoral candidate: Anna la Grange


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