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Week 7: War

Tutor: Dr Pierre Purseigle

Scholars have long studied and underlined the role that science and technology played in the transformation of warfare. Scientific knowledge and technological innovations did indeed play a critical part in the modernisation of military conflicts, particularly since the 19th century. The advent of nuclear weapons is now often held as the ultimate conflation of scientific progress and the totalization of warfare. However, as our readings and discussion will demonstrate, the relationship between science, technological advances, and war is anything but straightforward; the history of science at and in war, anything but linear and uncontested.


  • To what extent did science and technology contribute to the modernisation of warfare since the 19th century?
  • Should the history of science and technology at war exclusively focus on weapons?
  • Was the totalization of warfare a product of scientific and technological advances?
  • What does the history of scientists in wartime tell us of the transformation of warfare?


Roger Chickering, Dennis E. Showalter, and Hans J. Van de Ven, eds, The Cambridge history of war. Volume 4, War and the modern world (Cambridge: CUP, 2012). Use this volume for background reading on the history of war in the modern era.

Omer Bartov, ‘The Conduct of War: Soldiers and the Barbarization of Warfare’, The Journal of Modern History (December 1992), 64, S32–S45.

David Edgerton, The shock of the old: technology and global history since 1900 (London: Profile, 2006).

Roy MacLeod, ‘The World of Science, the Great War and Beyond’, in The Academic World in the Era of the Great War, eds. Marie-Eve Chagnon and Tomás Irish (London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2018), 253–270.

Edmund Russell, War and nature (Cambridge, 2001). Chaps. 6 & 7

Martin Van Creveld, Technology and war (New York, 1991), 311-321