Observing and Comparing Militaries
The Workshop "Comparing Militaries in the Long 19th Century" grew out of common research interests of the doctoral students Kerrin Langer (SFB 1288, subproject A01), Johannes Nagel (RTG 2225 "World Politics", Bielefeld University), and Niko Rohé (SFB 1288, subproject A03). The comparing of military forces plays a crucial role in all their PhD projects. Historians, domestic and from abroad, extended the perspective on that practice by contributing different research contexts and approaches.The researchers mainly gave short impulse presentations to enable an intensive communication on the forms and functions of military comparing. Prior to the workshop, the papers of the participants were provided and sent out to all speakers to tweak the time for discussion even more.
Besides these impulse presentations Markus Pöhlmann of the Center for Military History and Social Sciences of the Bundeswehr gave a public lecture about the relation between military comparing and knowledge management.
The contributions pointed to the fact that military observing and comparing became more important at the end of the 19th century and in different contexts: General- and Admiral staffs built special communication sections, parlamentarians used military comparisons more frequently. Counter-intuitively, learning often came second when comparing military and colonial wars. The discussion illustrated that publicists, politicians, or general staff officers rather referred to overseas to confirm their own beliefs.
Comparing in itself can develop certain dynamics of its own which could be shown in the context of debates about the taking up of arms and military analyses of threats. The iteration of comparisons had the power to reinforce the perception of threats and to accelerate destabilization. Reciprocally, the constant comparing also contributed to the spreading and acceptance of humanitarian standards. Hence, the question of comparing as being inherently threatening had to remain unanswered. Especially crucial were the interpretations and conclusions drawn from the supposedly impartial comparisons which essentially affected the perception of threats.
The workshop was supported in cooperation with the Bielefeld Graduate School in History and Sociology (BGHS).
Photos: Rebecca Moltmann