Chapter 1 Introduction

This chapter is designed to give you a big picture overview of the course, explains the course structure, sets some expectations for behaviour, and explains how to use the handbook.

1.1 The Idea

Why does military technology matter? What, if anything, separates military technologies from other types of technology? This course builds out from these kind of abstract questions to study the relationship between war, technology, and the changing character of warfare. A key feature of this course is that it avoids specfic focus upon individual military technologies and innovations, and will require you to consider the connections between war, warfare, and a variety of technologies beyond those with specific military applications.

The idea for this course is that we will look at the connection between war and technology, and processes of change, from a variety of different angles. The centrepiece for the course is a lecture series examining the relationship between war and technology, minus the weapons. In a parallel seminar series, we’ll be examining the concept of military revolutions, and changing patterns of warfare in history.2 This will involve a lot of weapons. The course is ultimately designed for you to develop your own particular research interest, and the second term builds upon the first with a structured research series designed so that the course can discuss their own research projects and get feedback from me. You will get to engage with my own research to see how many different aspects of the course function in academic research projects,3 From experience, this often leads to interesting discussions, because here you get to kick me in the shins, so to speak, with what you’ve learned over the course. and in the final research series examine some of the wider problems involved in framing patterns of change in technology and warfare.

1.2 Course Structure

The course is designed a bit differently to other courses you may take. The course has six components:

  • A series of core lectures
  • A seminar series on the idea of military revolutions
  • A research series of 5 lectures/5 seminars on technology and warfare
  • A research series of 5 lectures/5 seminars on war and technology
  • Group research work
  • Your assessed work

Each of these are designed to work together, but also to stand independently of one another. That way, if one thing fails (a fire alarm causes a lecture cancellation, illness prevents you from meeting for group research, etc) then the rest can carry on regardless with minimal interruption.

If you are unable to make a teaching session (lecture or seminar), please complete an asynchronous learning task (detailed below). These are designed to enable students who cannot attend a teaching session in person to engage with the course material in a productive way. They should take no more than 15 minutes to complete, so should not add to your workload in a significant manner.

1.3 The Core Lecture Series: War and Technology Without the Weapons

In a nutshell, the primary lecture series is about the relationship between war and technology, minus the weapons. The purpose of this lecture series is to provide on overview of theories about the nature of technology, as well as processes of technological change, innovation, diffusion, transformation, and so on.

Each week we’ll be covering a new theory or process, as well as discussing a new technology, and looking at if and how the development of that technology influenced war and warfare, however indirectly.

Please note that the lectures will be about two thirds lecture, and one third small group discussion/full cohort discussion.

1.4 The Seminar Series: Military Revolutions

The primary seminar series for this course examines theories and explanations for changes in the conduct and character of warfare, with a focus upon (you guessed it) the role technology plays in said theories and explanations. A key theme of this seminar is the examination of periods of apparent rapid change, usually referred to as “military revolutions”. These are usually cut-off points, or periodisation points, by which people slice and dice military history into before/after categories, even if the exact boundaries of a given military revolution are hazy, and, as we’ll see, it is questionable whether they even exist.

1.5 The First Research Series: Not Much Ado About AEGIS?

The research series consists of five lectures, and five seminars that cover one of my research projects that relates to the course. The lectures will demonstrate the utility of approaching a contemporary issue of war and technology (lethal autonomous weapon systems) from an historical perspective. The seminars consist of counterpoints to the lectures, examining similar issues from a different theoretical perspective.

This research series is designed to complement the final evaluation for this module, with discussions to enable you to design your own 5000 word research project. The point of this first research series is that you will be using a substantial portion of your time in class to discuss and debate your own research projects. Unlike lectures in the first term, we will be paying specific attention to the practicalities of designing and conducting a research project in each and every class. Roughly 50% of the readings for this section of the course will relate to research design and research methods.

1.6 The Second Research Series: The Dinosaur Juice Killing Spree

The second research series addresses what I term the “periodisation problem” in the study of war and warfare. Unlike the first research series, there is no paper to accompany this section. Instead, we will be working through a substantial text (Vaclav Smil’s Energy and Civilisation) and considering how periodisations of technology align, or fail to align, with periodisations of warfare and military technology. In this series of lectures and seminars, we will focus upon the transition to “high energy societies” that accompanied the use of fossil fuels, internal combustion engines and gas turbines.

The workload in this last quarter of the course is intended to be lighter, as it is designed to give you more time to focus upon your own research essay for assessment.

1.7 Group Research Work

Group projects are a core element of the course, but they are not part of your formal assessment. The group projects are designed to get you used to performing research as a team. For this reason, don’t be intimidated by the scale of the output required - it is calibrated to be too much for an individual, but easily manageable for a small group.

There are three projects: a literature review, a case study, and a study of continuity/change over a randomised 100 year time period. Full details can be found in chapter 10.

1.8 Your Assessed Work

The assessments for this course are a 2500 word literature review and a 5000 word research essay on a topic of your own choosing. I am open minded about your disciplinary approach/topic for the research essay so long as you can justify a connection to the course. The course is designed to enable you to perform both tasks. The assessed literature review comes after group work on a similar task, and guidance for the 5000 word essay is built into the lectures of term 2.

1.9 Teaching Session Structure

There are two types of teaching session on this course: lectures and seminars. They will run a little different to how you may have been taught before, or may be taught in other modules. You will be discussing questions in small groups (3-5 students) throughout both sessions. I will call on groups to explain their agreement, or disagreement, over the answer to the question in a whole-class discussion after each small group discussion. I ask that a different person explains their group’s discussion each time, so that this task does not fall on one person’s shoulders.

Lectures are lecture/seminar sessions. That means that you will be engaging in small group discussion at points throughout the teaching session. The other type of teaching session is the seminar. These run as small group discussions, leading to a class discussion. There are two questions each week. One is about the readings, the second is designed to connect the theory discussions to a case study. Again, please read the set question ahead of the session and consider your answer to them prior to the class.

1.10 Asynchronous Learning Tasks

Asynchronous Learning Tasks are small tasks that are designed to enable students not physically present in teaching sessions to engage with the course. If you know that you will not be able to attend a teaching session, please complete one ahead of the session. If you are unable to make a teaching session at short notice, please complete one within 2 working days.4 I have to write this guide prior to knowing the day/time of teaching sessions, but I’m not going to ask you to work weekends. If you are ill for an extended period, please complete the task within 2 working days of being healthy. There will be a post on the News forum on KEATS for each week of the class. Please reply to it to complete your Asynchronous Learning Task. Please keep posts short (150 words maximum) as this isn’t intended to add significantly to your workload.

Asynchronous Learning Tasks:

  • Identify a relationship between one of the readings for this session and one from a prior teaching session that you find interesting. Explain the reason for your interest.
  • Identify and explain a key argument in one of the readings from the session that you disagree with. Explain your disagreement. If possible, provide a link to a piece of academic work that supports your disagreement.
  • Respond to one of the discussion questions (found in the lecture slides, or the set questions for the seminar). Remember to identify the question you’re responding to!
  • Identify a connection between the lecture or seminar theme and a contemporary conflict. Explain the connection and provide a link to a digital resource that enables the reader to understand the theme in the context of the conflict.

1.11 Course Expectations

Here is where I read you the riot act ahead of schedule. Just kidding. There is one hard and fast rule for this course: Stay in contact. I aim to be available via email Monday - Friday during normal work hours.5 That’s 0900-1800. Generally speaking I process my inbox once a day. I may answer emails at other times, but please do not expect immediate replies at weekends. Please also be considerate of your fellow students when working together on group projects and don’t expect them to be available outside normal working hours.6 That’s 0900-1800, Monday to Friday.

As you may have noticed, this course places a heavy emphasis on group learning (small group discussions, seminars, small group projects). My starting assumption is that everyone is an adult, and is here to learn. I therefore expect that people will approach discussions and group work with respect for each other. In particular, please be aware that other students may have to balance their studies with work or care commitments. If you are unable to devise a way of working around such issues, please contact me.

The core reading for this module is intentionally short (4-5 articles/chapters total per week), and this is the amount of reading that will enable you to engage with the course. I understand that not all students are able to dedicate 100% of their time during their MA to learning, so don’t worry if circumstances mean you can’t do the reading for a week. Try to catch up if you can, and email me if you get into trouble. That said, reading one article is better than nothing.

1.12 Attendance and Asynchronous Learning Tasks

All elements of this course are compulsory (including attendance at teaching sessions). However, I understand that students balancing significant outside commitments may on occasion be forced to miss sessions. If you are unable to make a session, please keep up with the reading, and please keep in contact with group members for research projects.

If you have to miss a session, please let me know, and complete an Asynchronous Learning Task, detailed above.

1.13 How To Use This Course Handbook

Chapters 2 - 5 contain guides to the course readings, case studies, lectures and seminars. Chapter 8 provides a guide to developing your skills over the course of this module, including a basic guide to producing academic work. Chapters 9 and 10 are guides to the assessments for the course, and group project work. Chapter 11 provides extension material, and there is a bibliography for all work cited in this handbook.