Chapter 2 Reading

War, warfare, and technology are three very big topics. Analysing the relationship between the three, and related processes of change, is, in essence, too big for a single degree, let alone a module. The idea for this course is that it provides a graduate-level foundation that will enable you to follow your own interests. Attending classes, and doing the relevant readings, will enable you to see how things mesh together. One of the key points is that you should be able to identify similar ideas, or even counterpoints, that exist in different bodies of academic literature on war and technology. This section is designed to give you some starting points. You’ll find some of these works in the week by week reading for the classes, but some won’t be found there. It is crafted out of false binaries for presentation reasons only.

2.1 Where do I start?

The large majority of the course material will deal with technology from the early modern period onwards, but it’s good to read a general history of technology in world history to get an understanding of where bits and pieces fit together. I suggest skim reading Daniel Headrick’s (2009) Technology: A World History, or Science and Technology in World History by James E. McClellan III, and Harold Dorn (2015). In addition, chapters 1 and 13 of Eric Schatzberg’s (2018) Technology: Critical History of a Concept will give you a good idea of some of the linguistic/definitional problems going on.

From the military side of things, a lot of what we’ll be reading in class is built around Wayne E. Lee’s (2016) Waging War. Again, I suggest skimming it to get an idea of where different pieces of military history that you’ve heard about fit together. If you are interested in military history itself, What is Military History? by Stephen Morillo and Michael Pavkovic (2017) is a good place to start. If you have a spare day or two, you may enjoy reading John Keegan’s (1994) A History of Warfare.

Finally, for the union of the two, that is, military technology, there are a bunch of “big books” that provide overviews of the history of military technology (usually heavy on weapons and weapons systems). For starters, there is Martin Van Creveld’s (1989) Technology and War, as well as Jeremy Black’s (2013) War and Technology.7 Who needs search engine optimisation? If you are looking for something short and to the point, Alex Roland’s (2016) War and Technology8 Okay, so I’m dropping subtitles for comedic effect, but you get my drift. won’t take you longer than a couple of hours to get through. You can also check out Bernard Brodie and Fawn Brodie’s (1973) From Crossbow to H-Bomb, Trevor M. Dupuy’s (1984) The Evolution of Weapons and Warfare, and Robert L. O’Connell’s (1989) Of Arms and Man. These latter three are a little dated by now.9 This is a polite way of saying that I’m recommending you read one or two to get a feel for how this stuff is usually discussed, not for accuracy. When reading any of these texts, you should keep a couple of things in the forefront of your mind. One is the range of variables under consideration. Often this is quite small.10 Sometimes it’s just technology and warfare and not much else Second is the implied or described causal mechanisms. A key thing that we will be discussing over the course is the concept of technological determinism, and it can often creep in by the back door.11 Step 1: Weapon changes warfare. Step 2: Warfare changes society. The history of weapons is on one hand a history of technologies that enable greater efficiency in killing, but it is also one of weapons and weapon systems developed in a given social/political context. A good canary-in-the-coalmine is whether the author describes the invention of the stirrup as having caused the development of shock cavalry. For an overview of why this is controversial, and contains technological determinism, read Alex Roland’s (2003) review article on the subject.

2.2 War or technology?

“I am more interested in technology than warfare.”

Cool. Good starting points are George Basalla’s (1988) The Evolution of Technology, and Wiebe E. Bijker el al’s (2012) The Social Construction of Technological Systems. Pay attention to Basalla’s use of military factors as a selective pressure (chapter 5) and Donald Mackenzie’s chapter in Bijker on inventing misssile accuracy.

“Guns. Lots of guns.”

Okay. Chances are that you’re going to be interested in how technologies alter patterns of warfare. For history, try reading Wayne E. Lee’s (2016) Waging War. You may, however, be more interested in technology and strategic theory, for that, try Barry Buzan’s (1987) An Introduction to Strategic Studies.

2.3 Technology: Theory or more theory?

“I want enough to get my head around what people mean by technology.”

Try chapter 1 of Mary Tiles and Hans Oberdiek’s (2005) Living in a Technological Culture for starters. Sergio Sismondo’s (2010) An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies features heavily in the course and gives a wide overview. You should also read Wendy Faulkner’s (2001) The Technology Question in Feminism and my personal favourite work on the subject is Ursula M. Franklin’s (1992) The Real World of Technology.

“I am willing to dedicate a non-negligible portion of my remaining lifespan to understanding the theoretical implications of technology.”

Well, you asked for it. I’d suggest going to Robert C. Scharff and Val Dusek’s (2013) Philosophy of Technology and reading the intro section to each collection of articles/chapters. From there, pick the sections that interest you, and go wild. Regardless of interest, I’d suggest you read Martin Heidegger’s12 NB: Heidegger was a Nazi, and also one of the most important philosophers of the 20th Century. (2013) The Question Concerning Technology and Hannah Arendt’s13 Hannah Arendt was one one of the most important political theorists of the 20th Century, and definitely not a Nazi. (2013) The “Vita Activa” and the Modern Age contained within the volume.

2.4 War: Theory or more theory?

“To tell you the truth, I have very little interest in wading through On War.”

That’s fine. Very few people make it through Clausewitz. You should, however, familiarise yourself with Clausewitz’s (1984) definition of war, and Book 1 of On War at the very least. In addition, try reading chapter 1 of Beatrice Heuser’s (2010) The Evolution of Strategy, and chapters 6-8 of Lawrence Freedman’s (2015) Strategy: A History.

“Actually, this whole military theory thing seems rather interesting.”

There’s three kinds of theory that you might be interested in learning about. One is high level theorisation of what war is. Obviously there is the aformentioned On War, but you might also wish to read up on challenges to this model, such as Martin Van Creveld’s (1991) The Transformation of War or Mary Kaldor’s (2013) New and Old Wars. You can look at strategic theory from an historical perspective - Beatrice Heuser’s book is a good place to start, and a key author to read is Jomini, who serves as something of a counterpoint, intellectually, to Clausewitz’s way of thinking about war. In contemporary terms, you might also wish to wade through the works of Colin S. Gray (2006); (2010), Hew Strachan (2013), and Edward Luttwak (2001).14 Luttwak, also the “give war a chance” guy because of Luttwak (1999). Lastly, you should read up on the definitions of war used in political science, notably those associated with key datasets like the Correlates of War Project’s COW War Data, 1816-2007, and its Militarized Interstate Disputes dataset. There is also the UCDP/PRIO Armed Conflict Dataset, and the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project’s dataset.

2.5 Empirical Change: What kind of timeframes interest you?

“I like to look at individual case studies where theory testing is a possibility.”

Hey, you’re in luck. One of the building blocks of Science & Technology Studies is the study of controversies, or specific points of change. Try chapter 11 of Sismondo (2010). Equally, in military adaptation and innovation15 These are two related bodies of theory that look at military change in different ways attention is often focused upon key adaptations or innovations. To get a feel for it, try Nina Kollars’ (2015) work on Vietnam and Iraq, or Aimée Fox’s (2017) Learning To Fight.

“I prefer long-term processes, even if cause and effect is less clear.”

One of the interesting things about technological change is that the full political and social ramifications of an innovation may not be readily apparent until a century or two after the inventor or innovators have died. If these kind of long term processes interest you, it’s probably better to start with a general class of technology. A good one is information and communications technology. Try James Gleick’s (2012) The Information for a relatively easy read. We’ll be reading Vaclav Smil’s (2017) Energy and Civilisation for the course, so you could double up reading here.

2.6 Military Technology: What changes are you interested in?

“I like big battles and I cannot lie.”

This isn’t a course about operational art, or tactics, but it is undeniable that operational or tactical problems are a key driver for military innovation and adaptation. From a military history perspective, some of the interesting questions are how and why certain technologies gave a military force an edge in a given conflict. We’ll be reading Wayne Lee’s (2016) book for the course. A good case is the interplay of politics, railways, artillery, and rifles of the Franco-Prussian war, see Michael Howard’s (2001) book on the subject. For a longer-term perspective, there is William McNeill’s (1982) The Pursuit of Power, although it overplays the technology a bit. Alternately you can look at the adaptation/innovation literatures, such as Nina Kollars (2015) and Aimée Fox’s (2017) work mentioned above. In addition, you can also look at defence planning, either from a state perspective (see Colin S. Gray’s (2016) book on the topic) or from the perspective of individual services. Thomas Mahnken (2010) has a good book on inter-service rivalry and weapons procurement, and Theo Farrell’s (1997) book Weapons Without a Cause is a really good study on the wider politics of weapons acquisition.

“I’m more interested in institutions and social structures myself.”

Okay, an obvious place to start is military institutions, and Mahnken (2010) is again a good place to start. Another key entry work is The Social History of the Machine Gun by John Ellis (1986). My (2017) last book, Enemies Known and Unknown looks at the relationship between institutions, norms, and technology. When looking at military technology from an institutional perspective, it’s good to be aware that a lot of talk is about the transformation of institutions themselves. This is found in work on the Revolution in Military Affairs, such as Adamsky (2008) and Stone (2004b). However you should probably read wider on the concept of “military transformation” - but also in work on military transformation, see Farrell, Rynning, and Terriff (2013) for a start. Other avenues of study are critical perspectives on military procurement and innovation. Matthew Ford’s (2017) Weapon of Choice is an interesting book on the construction of knowledge around weapon systems. Also it’s good to look at critical engagements with the underlying assumptions of these structures. Cynthia Enloe’s (2014) Bananas, Beaches and Bases is a good work to start with, as is Carol Cohn’s (1987) Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals.


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