McCormack, M. (2012) The material life of the militiaman, 1776-1815. Paper presented to: Contested Views: Visual Culture and the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, Tate Britain, London, 19-20 July 2012.
The study of material culture is a growth area within the wider discipline of history but, to date, it has had little impact upon military history or even the cultural history of war. Arguably, it presents an opportunity to reconcile military history’s foci on combat efficacy and technical detail with cultural history’s foci on representation and lived experience. This paper will attempt to make a case for this approach by focusing on the English militia during the ‘long embodiments’ of the American and French Wars. The militia is particularly interesting in this context, since it was a civilian force whose officers consisted of local gentlemen and whose ranks were dominated by the poor and semi-literate. These part-time soldiers were nevertheless expected to wear the elaborate uniform of the day, to master the latest techniques and technologies, and to encamp and go on exercises with the regulars. Using sources such as order books, official correspondence and private writings, this paper will seek to reconstruct the material experiences of militiamen, and will explore how their unique positioning between the military and civilian worlds can offer an intriguing perspective upon the material nature of warfare. This research is part of a joint project funded by the ARHC, ‘Soldiers and Soldiering in Britain, circa 1750-1815’, which seeks to develop new approaches to the combatant in this period