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A Correct Idea of War: Military Periodicals and Wartime Emotion in the Romantic Era

A seminar by Dr Neil Ramsey (UNSW Canberra).


Date: Thursday 22 February 2018
Time: 12–1pm
Venue: *** Please note late change of venue to Arts Lecture Room 10, First Floor Arts Building, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Hwy, Crawley (Perth) WA
Registration and enquiries:
RSVP requested to emotions@uwa.edu.au. This is a free event.  All welcome.

One of the key ways that war and emotion have been examined in relation to Romantic era Britain has been through analysis of the period’s mass media. Although Britain was perpetually threatened with invasion during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, demanding widespread participation in the nation’s military efforts, war never arrived on British shores. Britons lived during what Mary Favret defines as a modern wartime, the experience of those ‘living through but not in a war’, an experience that was fundamentally constituted by the circulation of information in the era’s burgeoning print media. If the wars were the first in history to see the demand for a truly mass mobilisation, they also saw the formation of a mass reading public. What has been central to this idea of mass-mediated war, however, is the ways in which this mediated experience of war circulated as affect. The wars gave rise to what Lauren Berlant would term an affect world, in which emotion circulated within the public sphere as widely as rational discussion. As Favret suggests, every day brought fresh news that shaped affects across the nation, while the reporting of war began to become, itself, an object of affect associated with the expectations, anxieties, comforts and impotence of waiting for and receiving daily war news.

One dimension of this mass-mediated wartime that has not been widely considered in relation to emotion is the rise of military professional writing in this period, and in particular, the appearance of military periodicals. Influenced by German military journals that had appeared from the 1770s, and following the success of The Anti-Jacobin, or, Weekly Examiner (1797–1798) and its widespread circulation of counter-revolutionary writing, military journals first began to appear in the late 1790s with such titles as Monthly Military Companion and the British Military Library. Responding, in part, to perceptions of a growing vulgarisation and unruliness of patriotic culture over the course of the 1790s, the journals were central to the establishment of a military intellectual culture for both military officers and the reading public more generally. Yet while rational, even scientific in their approach, these journals can also be seen in terms of the broader circulation and regulation of affect during these years – they are also, I argue, a constitutive part of the affect world of Romantic wartime Britain. They point to a further dimension of affect that has at times been less prominent in discussions of war and emotion, the role of affect in itself producing militarism and more broadly, the relationship between affect and forms of administration, control and organisation that underpin the ways in which states wage war.

Neil Ramsey is a Lecturer in English Literature at the University of New South Wales, Canberra. He works on the literary and culture responses to warfare during the eighteenth-century and Romantic eras, focusing on the representations of personal experience and the development of a modern culture of war. His first book, The Military Memoir and Romantic Literary Culture, 1780–1835, was published by Ashgate in 2011. His most recent, a collection co-edited with Gillian Russell, Tracing War in British Enlightenment and Romantic Culture, was published by Palgrave in 2015. He is currently completing a monograph on military writing of the Romantic era, the research for which was funded by an Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship that he held from 2010–2013.  He was an Associate Investigator with the ARC Centre for the History of Emotions (CHE) in 2013, and a Short-Term Project-to-Publication Fellow with CHE in 2017.