Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Fighting for a Living

Which circumstances have determined the transition to, or the dominance of, a particular type of military employment in different societies at different times?

Erik-jan Zurcher

This three-year research programme is a comparative study of military recruitment in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, 1500-2000 CE. The innovative character of the project lies in the fact that it will primarily analyse military recruitment and service in terms of labour relations.

The purpose of the project is to investigate the circumstances which have produced starkly different systems of recruiting soldiers in a range of different parts of the globe, as well as to analyze the social and political implications that the different systems have had in a number of states and societies. 

The literature of military history is huge, but, apart from the descriptions of battles and campaigns that makes up the bulk of the works in the field, the majority of the other studies that have appeared in the past century (and primarily since World War I) concentrates on the development and application of military technologies, both in the sense of “hardware” (weapons, fortifications, ships) and in that of “software” (military drill, tactics and strategies). Fighting is rarely defined as a form of work. 

However, military employment seems to offer excellent opportunities for international comparison. Where many forms of human activity are restricted by the conditions of nature or the stage of development of a given society, organized violence is ubiquitous. Soldiers, in one form or another, are always part of the picture, in any period and in every region. What makes diachronic and global comparison of forms of military labour especially enticing is the fact that they offer such a rich variety of types of labour relations. 

The project will be based on a comparison of case studies. The comparative framework will be constructed both in time and in space. The selection of the cases we will be made in conjunction with the five sample years around which the IISH Global Labour History programme has been built: 1500, 1650, 1800, 1900 and 2000 so that we will be able to integrate the results of this project with the larger programme. The cases for the comparative project we will study are bounded by four large geographical areas: Europe, Middle East, South Asia and China. 

The project is executed by 19 scholars from seven countries and will involve three workshops and a publication in book form.The backbone of the project is formed by a collaboratory, an electronic environment in which the participants will be able to communicate, share resources, and consult and comment on each other's work. The collab's site can be found at:  http://projects.iisg.nl

International Institute of Social History

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