Theoretical frameworks for studying battles

Nate Ledbetter's picture

Hello to all. Apologies if you've seen me ask this same thing in other venues.

I'm looking for recommendations on theoretical frameworks for studying battles or campaigns, preferably recent work. The field has moved away from drums and bugle campaign studies over the decades (though of course they still exist) as we've come to ask different questions about war, warfare, and the military besides "why was this commander great/poor?" and "was this battle decisive?" All of which is fine and valuable, as there is so much more.

But...battles still are a subject worthy of study, even if our approaches and questions about them have evolved. For my dissertation I'm currently working on a chapter focused on a battle in late medieval/early modern Japan (Mimigawa, 1578), in which I intend to use the campaign as a framework for examining the roles of religion, technological change, and organization in the tactical space. With my background as an armored cavalry squadron S2, my starting point is the MDMP process, with the caveats of course that you're dealing with historical sources and altered terrain.

Thus, I was hoping someone could point towards recent publications that discuss how military historians can productively write about "battles." I've participated in discussions on this with folks in the Conflict Archaeology field, many of whom are applying current military concepts like OCOKA or Battlespace to help them define their area of investigation for a specific conflict site. I'm looking back through the JMH archives to review articles that focus on battles as models, but have not yet found anything that discusses theoretical or historiographic approaches. Any recommendations appreciated.

Thank you!
Nate Ledbetter
PhD Candidate, Dept. East Asian Studies
Princeton University

Dear Nate,

As an answer to your question “how military historians can productively write about battles”, I would like to recommend the use of “comparative force analysis”. The title of my master’s degree dissertation is “Visual Data Supported Comparative Force Analysis of Air Forces of Ottoman and Allied Armies at the Gallipoli Front”. I introduced the comparative force analysis as a tool for studying battles and campaigns in history. The thesis is a pioneering work in Turkish military history methodology because it is for the first time comparative force analysis is used in a dissertation to study historical military action, at graduate level. In fact; the only criticism for my dissertation, voiced by one member of my jury was that the dissertation has stepped over into the realm of a doctorate dissertation by introducing a new methodology.

The downside in relation to your request for “recommendations on theoretical frameworks for studying battles or campaigns” is that the method is not a theoretical framework. The method is actually a “current” military concept, a practical tool applied by armed forces to current issues, which integrates quantitative and qualitative data through application of mixed methods research.

The English language version of the abstract of my dissertation is available on my Academia page.

Best wishes and wish you success,

Bülent Yilmazer
BS-ME, MA-Hist.
Department of History and Department of Aerospace Engineering
Middle East Technical University
Ankara - Turkey