Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
“Judging Empire” examines the culture of the British Army during its transformation from a national army to a primary agent of the expanding British Empire. Using letters, diaries, contemporary military manuals, and especially the army’s court-martial records, it focuses particularly on the masculine culture of the officer class. Due to their high social position and the lack of other authorities in the imperial areas where the army operated, members of this group held disproportionate power over both their military subordinates and the civilians with which the army interacted. Officers’ presentation of themselves emphasized traditional understandings of martial masculinity and class dynamics; their privileges as men were inseparable from their privileges as members of the upper class. Officers were determined to preserve these privileges as they came under threat from the development of increasingly technical forms of warfare, imperial administrators anxious to uphold centralized authority, enlisted soldiers demanding authority and autonomy based on their own claims to masculine privilege, and imperial civilian populations whose social hierarchies were often perceived to have a dangerous lack of resemblance to those of the army.
Officers developed a culture in which men’s fragile honor needed to be defended with deadly violence, and in which fighting wars and advancing the national interest were frequently perceived to be of lesser importance than deciding questions of personal honor and individual reputation. This culture, in turn, affected the army’s imperial role. Violent masculinity and honor culture negatively affected the army’s military capabilities, and army administrators and government officials attempted to control rogue officers through laws and regulations meant to curb their violent and dangerous behavior. Yet the vast distances of empire made such attempts at centralized control ineffective, and they found it necessary to cede to the officers themselves the task of regulating officers’ problematic behavior. So long as officers retained their power, imperial rule would be shaped by these men who insisted that violent domination was the necessary and essential foundation of their masculinity, military authority, status, and power.
Merrill, Emily, "Judging Empire: Masculinity and the Making of the British Imperial Army, 1754-1783" (2015). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 1893.