Jasper Heinzen is Lecturer in Modern European History at the University of York. He previously completed his PhD at the University of Cambridge and held a Marie Curie fellowship at the University of Bern. His work, which has received the Royal Historical Society’s Alexander Prize and the ‘Preis für niedersächsische Landesgeschichte’, explores a wide range of themes related to the cultural history of nationalism, international relations and war in nineteenth-century Europe. His first book, Making Prussians, Raising Germans, is currently being published by Cambridge University Press (2017). In his next project, he investigates the importance of honour as a transnational medium of communication among prisoners of war during the ‘long nineteenth century’ (1789-1918).
Modern state-building (with a particular focus on Germany); memory studies and the collective remembrance of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe; and cultural historical approaches to the way in which notions of ‘civilised warfare’ changed between the French Revolution and the First World War.
In search of civilised war: prisoners of war and the concept of military honour in Western Europe, 1750-1918
The rise and fall of military honour codes is a timely topic. Although the term human rights is now used more commonly than honour in public discourses about restraints on violence in war, questions of normative conduct remain at the core of what expressly or subliminally unites international coalitions against perceived rogue states and ‘terrorists’. These norms reflect a widely held belief that soldiers in the eighteenth century’s Age of Reason acted with restraint towards each other, that this ‘enlightened’ consensus was gradually lost with the advent of total war between 1789 and 1945, and that modern armies are in the process of reconnecting with the cosmopolitan, albeit Eurocentric, ideals of their predecessors.
The present project challenges this teleological perspective. It argues that a closer look at the evolution of military honour in Western Europe relativises the importance of sharp breaks and instead refocuses attention on historical continuities and organic progressions in the treatment of enemies. The versatility of honour as a concept makes it a useful heuristic tool to investigate this problem. Most scholars agree that honour comprises two more or less compatible manifestations: on the one hand the way in which the ethical and cultural values of a society become internalised, and on the other the extent to which individuals or even whole states are seen to conform outwardly with the socio-moral standards of their times. As such, honour is at once individualistic and collectivist. The resulting dialectic between personal virtue and reputation has been much explored by historians of duelling and martial valour, yet so far the literature has tended to concentrate on the articulation of honour codes in a national context, with an emphasis on cultural differences that set countries apart from each other. What role honour played in the transnational setting of war during the crucial phase of transition from mercenary to conscript armies in the nineteenth century is still a little researched topic.